LANSING, Mich. - A Michigan man whose stepson died after he beat the 4-year-old several times and whipped him with a leather belt has been sentenced to more than 16 years in prison.
Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced Orlando Steele on Monday to 16 ½ to 25 years in prison, the Lansing State Journal reported.
Steele pleaded guilty in April to a reduced charge of second-degree child abuse in the July 2015 death of Ja’Haad Wood, who had a lacerated liver and more than 50 blunt-force injuries.
Steele — a fourth-time offender — told police that he beat the boy to discipline him several times the day before his death, including with a leather belt.
Ja’Haad’s mother, Jessica Wood, met Steele two months before her son was killed, according to a Child Protective Services petition to terminate Wood’s parental rights. Steele would stay at home and watch the kids while Wood worked, often disciplining the children, the CPS report found.
Steele punished Ja’Haad the day before his death after the boy’s younger brother told Steele the 4-year-old had stolen SpaghettiOs off his plate, according to CPS records.
An autopsy report shows Ja’Haad had scars and bruises all over his body.
The medical examiner couldn’t determine the cause of Ja’Haad’s death, which led prosecutors to conclude they couldn’t sustain a murder charge against Steele.
Dr. Stephen Guertin, a Lansing pediatrician who specializes in child abuse, was called upon by prosecutors on Monday. Guertin said Ja’Haad suffered bleeding near the brain from two impacts to his head, a torn diaphragm, two black eyes and a bruised liver.
“He got beaten to death, that’s how this boy died,” Guertin said. “There’s no question in my mind how he died.”
Steele told the judge he didn’t intend to kill his stepson. He said he was trying to discipline an undisciplined child.
“This whole ordeal has been a tragedy from the beginning,” Steele said. “I know I’m not the best father, but I’m trying.”
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