Anna Leask

Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Court told of tot's life of fear

A blood test found cannabis in JJ Lawrence's system. Photo / Supplied
A blood test found cannabis in JJ Lawrence's system. Photo / Supplied

Little JJ Lawrence died on a ripped and tatty bed with no mattress, in immense pain and allegedly at the hands of a man who terrified him.

The 2-year-old had been struck so hard in the tummy that his liver and pancreas were forced into his spine and split in half. It has also been revealed that the toddler had either been given cannabis or inhaled it shortly before his death.

JJ, whose full name is James Joseph Ruhe Lawrence, died last November at an Orakei house where he lived with his mother Josephine Lawrence and her partner Joel Loffley, 29.

Police charged Loffley with murder in December and he went on trial in the High Court at Auckland yesterday.

Details of the horrific injuries inflicted on JJ the day he died - and earlier alleged assaults while he was in Loffley's care including two broken arms - were revealed for the first time in court before Justice Patrick Keane.

Loffley's lawyer Roger Chambers said Loffley denied killing JJ.

"He is a person that acknowledges that from time-to-time he has been violent to others ... But he says that on this occasion 'it wasn't me' - that is the essence of his plea. The police have got the wrong person," he said.

Crown prosecutor Phil Hamlin said Loffley had been violent towards JJ and his mother since they started living together last May and had been ordered by the court to go to anger management classes as a result.

He said JJ had a short and violent life and was frightened of Loffley.

"Mr Loffley was alone caring for JJ when he became angry and frustrated with the young boy [and] struck JJ in the stomach with such a powerful blow that ... within minutes that boy was dead. Mr Loffley pretended all was well with JJ and told the child's mother that the boy had fallen off the bed. He placed JJ in bed and said good night to him. JJ was dying but, oblivious to this, his mother watched a movie in the room next door."

Loffley then went to the shops and a friend's place with his brother - who also lived at the house. He came home to "find" JJ not breathing and carried him downstairs to the lounge.

Minutes later electrician Roger Lang arrived at the house, sent by Housing New Zealand to replace smoke alarm batteries.

"I saw the boy lying down on the rug. I knelt down beside him ... I just got straight into it," he said.

He said no one in the house was doing anything to help JJ.

"There was absolutely nothing going on ... There was no movement - apart from the chest rising or falling from my breaths ... I could hear talking about getting smokes, wailing and a bit of crying."

Paramedics arrived and pronounced JJ dead.

Loffley later told police investigating the death that JJ had fallen off a bed, landed on his head and was "winded and dazed" for a few minutes, then fine.

But a pathologist determined JJ died as a the result of a non-survivable injury caused by a "significant force". A blood test showed cannabis in his system.

The trial continues today.

- NZ Herald

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