When the first lie faltered, he floated another. And when that was shot down too, facing life in prison as a brutal child killer, he blamed the woman he claimed to have loved.

Troy Kevin Taylor took to the witness stand - a move many experienced defence lawyers avoid at all costs - to angrily deny claims he battered his 14-month old step-son Ihaka Stokes to death.

"This is not about me. This is about Ihaka and he deserves the truth. This is why I'm up on the stand today. To tell the full truth for my son. It's the last thing I can do for him. I'm not going to fail him again."

The 24-year-old explained away all his lies. He was protecting his partner, and Ihaka's mum Mikaela Stokes, you understand. Because he loved her. That's why he lied in his police interview on that cold night on July 3, 2015 about hearing the tiny toddler "fall" in his cot.

Advertisement

The jury didn't buy the performance.

Taylor's litany of lies, or alternative facts, were finally undone by science. Cold, hard facts. Even then Taylor, through perhaps pathological prevaricating or pure self-preservation, rubbished the damning independent expert evidence: "Just because it's science, does that make it correct? Science gets lots of things wrong."

When the jury found him unanimously guilty of inflicting the boy's 59 fatal blunt force injuries - broken shoulder blades, forearm, jaw and vertebrae, and brain swelling and bleeding - and of assaulting Ihaka the day before the killing - Taylor mouthed "no" in the dock. As he was led into custody, Taylor's brow furrowed as he muttered, "F****** b*******".

Today at the High Court in Christchurch he was jailed for life imprisonment, with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.

Again, Taylor was adamant everyone had got it wrong.

*****

Mikala Stokes had just split up with baby Ihaka's biological father Cameron Ellen in October 2014 when she found out she was pregnant again.

Around that time, she met Taylor through an online dating site.

Advertisement

Taylor grew up in Mosgiel, attending Taieri College before Otago Boys' High School.

An avid sportsman, he represented the South Island in wrestling, Otago under 16 and under 18 at rugby league, and Dunedin in rugby union.

He left school at 16 to work in an abattoir and became a volunteer fireman.

After a stint working as a security guard, he shifted to Christchurch to work for an uncle's roofing business.

But after a year or so, concussions stemming back to sports injuries forced him off work and onto ACC.

By early 2015, Taylor and Stokes got serious. They started seeing each other and in April that year had moved into a Truman Rd house in the Bryndwr suburb of Christchurch.

They both say they were deeply in love. They shared a happy life, although Taylor had trouble sleeping and suffered headaches and nauseousness from the concussions.

While Stokes was studying for a diploma in business at CPIT, Taylor did most of the household chores.

He treated Ihaka as his own child, bathing and feeding him - he loved cheerio sausages - and doing puzzles and reading him his favourite books.

Ihaka was a normal 14-month-old boy, although he always had a runny nose and would be grumpy with a cold.

He was nearly walking and pulled himself up on furniture to move around the home.

Three times a week, he attended a local preschool.

Stokes told the court her relationship with Taylor was "amazing". Her mother Yvonne marvelled at Taylor's gentle love and attentiveness. They had talked about Taylor adopting Ihaka and her unborn second child.

Everything was going well.

*****

When Stokes woke on the morning of July 3, 2015 Taylor told her not to be alarmed, but Ihaka had hurt himself in the night.

"He said he heard a little bang and then a big bang and so rushed in," Stokes told the trial earlier this year.

Stokes took the wee boy into her bed.

As it got light, she noticed a bruise on the right side of his face, from ear to jaw. She also spotted some blood on his sleepsack.

Stokes was worried. Her and Taylor decided to take him to the doctor.

A local GP checked him over and recorded him as being happy during the examination.

Stokes said the boy had recently fallen off the bed. The doctor found that Ihaka had an ear infection and wrote him a prescription.

The young couple got home at about midday.

Ihaka ate some cut-up banana and mandarin for lunch while Taylor had a sleep on the couch.

Around mid-afternoon, the well-inked Taylor left to get a new tattoo.

While he was out, Stokes played puzzles with Ihaka before he had a short sleep.

As she cooked dinner, he crawled around her legs.

She'd just put him to bed when Taylor got home at around 7pm.

During the trial, Taylor claimed that Stokes must have bashed the boy during that 3-4 hour window that he was out.

Stokes denied ever harming her son.

Later that night, they watched Jono and Ben, a TV show Stokes couldn't stand, so she went to bed at about 9pm.

Soon after, she heard Ihaka cry out and Taylor trying to settle him.

She waited a while before going to check on them.

Taylor, she saw, was inside the cot with Ihaka asleep on his chest.

"I asked him how he was going to get out of the cot and he said he hadn't thought of that yet," she said.

He soon joined her in bed and Stokes says she fell asleep watching a DVD of the TV series Charmed.

The next thing Stokes is aware of is the bedroom light being turned on. Taylor is standing at the doorway saying something is wrong with Ihaka.

The mother rushed to the boy's room and found him lying unresponsive on his back in his cot, struggling to breath with blue lips.

Stokes got Taylor to ring 111 at 10.43pm. He carried out CPR with instructions from the 111 call operator, the court heard.

An ambulance arrived seven minutes later.

He was rushed to Christchurch Hospital emergency department but was declared dead at 11.40pm.

Police soon identified Taylor as a person they wanted to talk to.

That night, he gave a 90-minute recorded interview with Detective Nigel Thomson.

Taylor said he heard a "one loud thump ... a sort of bang" as he was dozing off in bed.

He said it "sounded like he'd fallen over and banged his head on the crib which he's done quite often, which he'd done the night before as well".

The detective left the room for several minutes while Taylor is seen sobbing, with his head in his hands.

When Thomson returns, he tells Taylor: "Some things don't seem right here to me."

He accuses Taylor of "holding a few things back" and that the boy's injuries didn't support his story.

"I would never ever lay a finger on that boy," Taylor says.

"He means the world to me. I love that kid like he's my own son. He is my son. I would never do anything to hurt him."

Thomson accused Taylor of hitting Ihaka.

"That boy is everything to me. I would never ever touch him."

*****

During the trial, Taylor admitted lying to police that night.

He says he was trying to protect Stokes, claiming he would've gone to prison to cover for her.

Crown prosecutor Mark Zarifeh asked the bull-necked Taylor how the jury could know when he was lying and when he was not.

"I've lied before. I'm not lying now. It's up to them to decide," Taylor said.

"I still don't know what happened. I still don't know the full truth."

That night Taylor was spoken to by police, he said he "never considered myself a suspect" and that's why he spoke to them willingly.

But later when they gave him a caution, he thought: "Holy f***. They think it's me".

The Crown alleged that Taylor was suffering from sleep deprivation, headaches, and irritability caused by multiple concussions around the time Ihaka was developing an ear infection, when he snapped in a "momentary loss of temper".

Both the Crown and the defence agreed during the trial that there were no intruders on that fateful night and that the boy's 59 horrific injuries were not accidental.

That ruled out two possible lies for Taylor - no accident, no intruder.

And so he turned on Stokes - the woman who had backed her man ever since he was arrested.

A friend, Julie Stechmann - the tattooist who inked Taylor the day he killed Ihaka - questioned some of her social media posts during the trial.

She posted photos of her and Taylor, along with messages of: "I will always love you".

And during her testimony she still appeared to have feelings for the man she had loved, who was now calling her a child killer.

She even went out nightclubbing just hours after Taylor was found guilty of the boy's killing, posting a pouting selfie on Instagram with a caption: "From court to club".

"Who goes out clubbing that night? It's not normal behaviour," Stechmann said.

But Taylor's tales couldn't overcome the weight of the case against him - especially the medical evidence.

Taylor argued that Stokes must've battered baby Ihaka in the hours he was out getting another tattoo.

He says he came home to find the child floppy and breathing raspily.

Worried that Stokes "might've done something", he baulked at getting medical help because he didn't want to get her into trouble.

Taylor's story didn't stack up for UK neuropathologist Professor Colin Smith.

It had to have been a "maximum of minutes" from the time Ihaka received his injuries before he became unconscious, Smith said.

Asked to comment on defence suggestions that Stokes inflicted the injuries in the afternoon - at least three hours before Taylor says he found him unresponsive in his cot - Smith replied: "That is not an explanation for the pathology that is present in this case."

Zarifeh said the medical evidence was not consistent with Taylor's account, and also independently showed that Stokes couldn't have inflicted the injuries on the Friday afternoon.

It was all over for Taylor and his lies.