Medical personnel said that the boy’s abdomen was swollen, that his rib cage was flared and that the skin around his stomach was thinning — signs that he suffered from malnutrition and starvation, according to court records.
“There was no love in this kid’s life,” senior deputy prosecutor Cecelia Gregson said last month at the end of a months-long trial, according to Seattlepi.com.
Sefton and Lloyd, 31-year-olds from Auburn, Wash., were convicted of assault and criminal mistreatment. They were sentenced last week to 20 years in prison.
Gregson told Seattlepi.com that the judge deemed the sentence appropriate because the case “was exceptional in every way.”
On a Thursday morning in March 2014, police were called to Chinook Elementary School in Auburn, not far from Seattle, according to court records. The then-6-year-old boy, identified in the documents only as “KS,” had shown up at school with a split lip, bruises and a weight-loss problem.
The boy told police that his father “hit me in the mouth” because he had set food on the car seat to tie his shoelaces, according to the court documents.
But, he told police, the last time his father beat him was “this morning before school” because he had wet the bed. He said his dad “got really mad,” pulled off his pajamas and spanked him. Then, the boy said, his father threw him into a cold shower.
Authorities said the 6-year-old told child-welfare workers that he once went two nights without any food as punishment for purported bad behavior.
“School officials have noted that KS has been stealing food from the other children and digging through the trash to locate additional food,” according to the documents. “KS constantly states that he is hungry.”
The boy was transported to the emergency department of Seattle Children’s Hospital, where medical personnel noticed bruises and lesions consistent with possible burns as well as signs that he was malnourished.
“During this visit to Children’s Hospital, KS disclosed that he is only fed a blended drink in the morning and for dinner,” according to the court documents. “He also explained that he often does not like to drink the ‘shake,’ but that if he refuses, he receives no other food.”
Sefton, the boy’s father, told police that he started giving him hot-dog shakes for breakfast and dinner because the boy was intentionally choking on solid food, according to the documents, but he said he packed the boy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an apple for his school lunch.
Police said Lloyd, Sefton’s fiancee, told them that she did not know that the boy had been eating blended meals.
A prosecutor in the case told jurors that Lloyd captured the boy’s injuries on film and that she and Sefton used to send snarky text messages to each other about the boy’s abuse, according to the Post‑Intelligencer.
Sefton, the prosecutor said, told school staffers that the boy was a “demon” and instructed them not to feed him because he had “dietary restrictions.”
Seattlepi.com reported that the prosecution painted a picture of a small boy who fought through heavy-handed punishments for perceived wrongdoings — going without food, or very little, and being forced to do push-ups with a pack filled with canned goods strapped to his back.
“They were using food to torture him,” Gregson, the prosecutor, said. “It has the added benefit of trying to kill him, but it was a very effective form of torture.”
In Washington, what exactly qualifies as torture is an open question. Despite being a key consideration in abuse prosecutions, state lawmakers haven’t defined torture and the courts have ruled that jurors know torture when they see it.Attorneys for Sefton and Lloyd contend that their treatment of the children does not amount to torture.
Sefton and Lloyd were arrested and charged with assault of a child, criminal mistreatment and unlawful imprisonment, and KS and two other children in the home were placed in other homes, according to Seattlepi.com.
The prosecutor added that Lloyd did nothing to stop the abuse.
“Mr. Sefton was an engaged parent and a proactive parent,” Joseph Richards, Sefton’s attorney, said last month in court, according to Seattlepi.com.
Richards said that Sefton had the boy do “some physical stuff” and blended the boy’s food out of concern for him.
“Mr. Sefton didn’t keep food from” his son, the lawyer said, according to the news site. “He chose what he got to eat.”
Lloyd’s attorney, Jennifer Anne Cruz, argued in court that even if the boy’s food was blended, it was still food.
“Lori and Chris were parenting the best that they could,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly cited Seattlepi.com. It has been updated.