A man has been found guilty of murdering his partner’s three-year-old son, after inflicting more than 20 rib fractures, during weeks of “horrendous” beatings, including some using force similar to a car crash.
Convicted drug dealer 32-year-old Nathaniel Pope was found unanimously guilty by a Birmingham Crown Court jury on Tuesday, which heard evidence of how Kemarni Watson Darby’s fragile body, which had 34 separate areas of external injuries, had acted as a “silent witness” to his crime.
Kemarni’s mother, 30-year-old Alicia Watson, was cleared of murdering her son but found guilty of causing or allowing the child’s death.
Each was also found guilty of multiple child cruelty counts.
Mrs Justice Tipples praised the “extremely impressive” jury for their “dedication and commitment” throughout the 65-day trial, as one juror openly wept, following delivery of the verdicts.
The judge herself became emotional as she further ordered the 10-member panel of five men and five women to be discharged from future jury service for life due to the “awful nature of the facts” they had had to consider over 20 weeks.
The four-month trial was told Watson and Pope, who blamed each other from the witness box, were “partners in crime” and continued to live together for several months after Kemarni’s death.
Jurors found the youngster died from abdominal injuries on the afternoon of June 5 2018, after his ribcage was “crushed” at the couple’s two-bedroom flat in West Bromwich, inflicted by Pope.
But also among the fatal injuries to Kemarni’s body were four rib fractures believed by pathologists to have been caused up to four weeks before he was killed at his home in Beaconview Road, in West Bromwich.
Pope, who was jailed for four months in 2011 for a brutal attack on a young mother on a London bus, claimed in court that he had not seen or heard the fatal attack on Kemarni.
The former warehouse worker has previous convictions for burglary and possession of heroin with intent to supply, and was found with a “rock” of crack cocaine hidden in his buttocks when he was arrested for murder in March 2021.
Watson, said to have a “zero to 100” temper, became angry while giving evidence, blaming Pope and claiming she only lived with him after her son’s death because she doubted the medical evidence.
During the trial, it emerged she had bought cannabis and spent money on driving lessons as Kemarni lost his nursery place due to lack of funds.
Expert witnesses said the youngster was already in pain from serious injuries when, hours before he was beaten to death, he was taken by Watson to a walk-in health centre, where she told a nurse her son was being sick, had a high temperature and was not eating.
Notes from the visit suggested that Kemarni, who was given medicine for a suspected stomach bug, had been vomiting for five days and was “not his usual self”.
Opening the case at the start of the trial, prosecutor Tony Badenoch QC said: “Post-mortem examinations revealed that Kemarni had sustained horrendous injuries both that day and on earlier occasions.
“The injuries were evident both externally and internally when a post-mortem examination was conducted.
“Amongst those injuries were multiple fractures to his skeleton, some of which would have required force akin to a road traffic accident or stamping.
“Both recent and non-recent injuries were found. There were multiple fractures to both the left and right side of his ribcage which could be dated historically into the hours and weeks preceding his death.
“At least four separate events caused the fractures. They included corner fractures, fracture lines, partial fractures and a complete transverse fracture.”
Internal bruising and lacerations were also described as extensive, including injuries to Kemarni’s liver and colon.
Mr Badenoch added: “It was a mesenteric laceration which ultimately killed him as his abdominal internal structures were forced against his spine with force.
“In short, he died from abdominal trauma which was most likely caused by a blow.”
During the trial, it emerged that an electrical wire had been used to “lock” a bedroom door at the flat.
Jurors were also shown a photograph of Kemarni with an injury to his right eye, as well as one showing him eating near a clump of his own hair, which Watson claimed he had cut off.
After the jury heard evidence from both defendants, family members, a nursery teacher and a social worker, Mr Badenoch used his closing speech to describe the murder as the brutal killing of an utterly defenceless victim.
He told the court: “The prosecution case is that Kemarni suffered a catalogue of horrendous injuries for weeks in advance of his death – caused by levels of extreme force associated with a car crash.
“He was also marked and scarred in dozens of separate areas, including grip injuries where he had been manhandled in his young life, as he was learning to walk and speak.
“That was the life of Kemarni in his final weeks – when his mother spent the £25 that was needed for his ongoing nursery attendance on driving lessons and drugs.”
It's Kemarni's body that spoke the loudest, with the most clarity, in this courtroomProsecuting barrister Tony Badenoch QC
Watson and Pope had provided silence and lies to the court and refused to say what they had done to a child who was “full of personality”, Mr Badenoch said.
The prosecutor added the couple had given no explanation for injuries found on Kemarni’s head, mouth, neck, arms, chest, abdomen, back and legs, other than accidents involving prams and doorframes.
Mr Badenoch said of Kemarni: “Although he lost his life in the most horrendous way, he had a voice in this courtroom.
“He was also a witness in this courtroom, the most important witness – the silent witness.
“It is Kemarni’s body that spoke the loudest, with the most clarity, in this courtroom.
“His squeezed, battered and lifeless, oxygen-starved body cannot lie. This is something which his mother and Nathaniel Pope have summarily sought to discredit, shift around and silence.”
Pope, of Wolverhampton, and Watson, of Handsworth, Birmingham, were also convicted of child cruelty to Kemarni between May 1 and June 5 2018, relating to the infliction of rib fractures and an abdominal injury prior to the fatal injury.
They were also separately convicted of two further counts of child cruelty in relation to other children.
Pope and Watson will be sentenced on May 23.