PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The parents of a battered, starved 6-year-old boy were convicted Friday of third-degree murder amid evidence that his decline began soon after he was removed from a relative's care three years earlier.
Siblings testified that Khalil Wimes endured frequent beatings as punishment for his chronic vomiting, a condition that a defense lawyer attributed to the separation from his foster mother. He also had to run laps and stand in the corner for hours, until he collapsed.
Khalil weighed 29 pounds when he died, less than he had three years earlier, when he moved in with birth parents Tina Cuffie and Latiff Hadi, who is also known as Floyd Wimes.
He was the 10th of Cuffie's 11 children. At least five older siblings had previously been removed from her care by the city's Department of Human Services. Witnesses said that Cuffie did not want to lose the youngest two children still at home with her, Khalil and a younger sister who was not abused.
She and Hadi home-schooled Khalil and kept him hidden from relatives, including the foster mother who sobbed as she sat through the trial. They locked him in his bedroom so he could not get up at night and eat.
"Day after day, this child was screamed at, he was deprived of food, he was deprived of fresh air," said Assistant District Attorney Ed McCann, who called Khalil's death "inevitable" given the abuse.
Cuffie's lawyer, Michael Farrell, had a nearly similar view of how "the tragic urban American story," as he called it, would end once Khalil was sent to live with his unfit client.
"She was placed in a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure," Farrell said, given that Cuffie had been deemed incapable of caring for five other children. He argued that Cuffie, in response to the vomiting, "tried to discipline away a psychological, medical problem."
It was not immediately clear from the trial testimony why Khalil was returned to his parents. He was monitored for a time by city workers, but the supervision ended, and his deterioration began, both sides agreed.
Khalil's death was only the latest in a string of homicide cases in Philadelphia involving vulnerable children who were starved or severely malnourished.
Both Cuffie and Hadi have high school degrees, and they seemingly provided at least basic care to the younger sister, who attended a public preschool. Defense lawyers for both argued that their clients were guilty of only gross neglect for ignoring what they called Khalil's medical problems.
Hadi's lawyer, Derrick Coker, argued that his client moved out several months before Khalil's death, and that Cuffie inflicted more of the beatings.
"Does that matter?" Judge Barbara McDermott asked Friday, cutting him off.
The defendants had agreed to a nonjury trial, leaving the case in McDermott's hands. She told lawyers during their closing arguments that she was deciding between first- and third-degree. She also convicted both parents of child endangerment and aggravated assault.
They face at least 20 to 40 years in prison when they are sentenced on Nov. 26.