Warning: Distressing content
Discipline turned to death for little Ferro-James Tiopira Sio - a 5-year-old who was severely beaten and murdered by his father while they stayed in emergency housing in Rotorua.
Now his father, William James Sio, has been sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.
The 25-year-old appeared in the High Court at Rotorua today for sentencing before Justice Ian Gault after previously admitting five charges, including murdering his son on February 8 last year at a Union St property in Rotorua.
He also pleaded guilty to two joint charges with his partner, Leza Rawiri, of ill-treating and neglecting Ferro-James, assaulting the child and failing to get medical care for him after he stopped breathing.
Rawiri, 29, has previously pleaded guilty and will face sentencing at a later date.
Details of the abuse at the hands of Sio and Rawiri have been revealed in the police's summary of facts released to media before the sentencing. It showed Ferro-James died from a sustained and severe beating.
Sio admitted to police he did it and said he felt stressed as he had to "find a house and do everything else" and he was "not the parent of the year".
Ferro-James' mother was present in court, along with 14 other members of the public, but she had her victim impact statement read by a Victim Support volunteer.
In it she said she was woken by a phone call from police with the "worst news of my life".
"You had one job and that was to be his father ... I thought I trusted the right person with my child."
She said Ferro-James would forever be her guardian angel helping to keep her strong.
"I will never forgive you."
The summary of facts said Sio would become frustrated by what he thought was bad behaviour by Ferro-James.
He would make the boy face a wall with his hands out straight in front of him for long periods as punishment and would kick and hit him if he faltered.
On the night of his death, Sio kicked him violently multiple times when he could no longer stand with his hands out. One kick was of such force, Ferro-James' breathing became shallow.
The summary said Sio told police he did CPR on his son and he began breathing again. He then lay down and went to sleep next to Rawiri, who told the police she was asleep during this time.
A few hours later, Sio told police he woke and found Ferro-James was cold and did not appear to be breathing. He tried to breathe into his son's mouth but without success.
Just before 10.30pm, Sio's phone was used to find a defibrillator nearby. A short time after this Rawiri went outside and had a cigarette.
About 10.50pm the pair took Ferro-James to Rotorua Hospital. Sio and Rawiri were in the front and Ferro-James lay in the rear seat.
The summary said the pair paused a couple of times to talk before entering the hospital's Emergency Department. When they arrived with Ferro-James limp and wrapped in a blanket, they told staff they thought he was already dead.
Attempts were made to resuscitate him but he was pronounced dead.
The summary said Sio was in a relationship with Ferro-James' mother but they separated in October 2014 just before Ferro-James turned 1.
Initially, Ferro-James was in his mother's care before Sio took full custody in 2017. In 2018, Sio started a relationship with Rawiri and it was described as "volatile" and "violent".
Ferro-James was found to have bruising and "pinch-type" marks on his body by his teacher at a Tauranga kohanga reo. The boy told a kohanga teacher that "aunty" - as he called Rawiri - had done it.
The marks would often be more common on a Monday and a kohanga teacher repeatedly raised concerns with Sio.
However, Sio denied Rawiri was responsible and said it was from Ferro-James play-fighting.
The teacher saw the marks would disappear for a time but would continue to reappear.
Sio had "unrealistic expectations" about how Ferro-James should behave and would physically assault him when he did not eat all of his dinner or sit still, the summary said.
Rawiri would also hit Ferro-James by slapping him on his body.
Sio worked as a bricklayer and sometimes he would take his son to work and the child would sit in the car the whole time. Sio often left Ferro-James with friends, sometimes for days.
Sio did not enrol his son into school when he turned 5 so Sio's friends enrolled Ferro-James themselves at Ōwhata Primary School, where he started in October 2019.
It was Sio's associates who took him to school, gave him school supplies and helped with his homework.
In late January, Sio was staying with some friends in Rotorua when he punched Ferro-James hard in the chest and stomach, sending him flying backwards and into a hallway.
On January 24, Sio arranged to move into emergency housing on Union St in Rotorua with his son. Rawiri would also stay at the address, which was a small and cramped room with limited space to move around.
The pair often kept the room door closed and curtains pulled and had little interaction with other residents.
In the two weeks leading up to Ferro-James' death, residents heard the pair argue and fight daily.
Residents would hear Ferro-James screaming in a "frantic and distressed manner", hitting sounds and the boy crying.
On February 8, between 10am and 11am, Ferro-James and Sio walked to the bathroom and Sio had his hand on top of his son's head and was pushing him along.
Ferro-James had a "large, dark area" of bruising covering the left side of his face and bruises on his chin along his jawline, the summary said.
Sio made Ferro-James have a shower, which caused the boy to cry out in pain and it was described as becoming muffled as though something had been placed over his mouth to keep him quiet.
A subsequent examination of the shower showed signs of blood running down the outside of the shower door, along the bottom of the shower and into the plughole.
A wet flannel in the shower had blood visible on it.
About midday, Rawiri left the address and went into town and returned later in the afternoon. She told police she had gone to sleep and slept through the rest of the assaults on Ferro-James.
Examination of the bedroom walls showed multiple palm prints that appeared to be small left- and right-hand prints side by side.
During the afternoon, Sio violently kicked Ferro-James multiple times when he could no longer stand, including the forceful kick that impacted his breathing.
After his death, he was found to have multiple bruises, cuts and sores all over his body.
Sio told hospital staff his son had bruises because he had tripped in the Redwoods. When asked why he had blood on his lips and mouth area, Rawiri said Ferro-James "bites his own tongue" to make it bleed.
A post mortem found Ferro-James died from multiple blunt force traumas and it was the pathologist's opinion he had suffered a "sustained and severe beating".
The summary said there was a deep injury to the muscle on the right buttock and back of the thigh where the muscle had been torn.
There were soft tissue injuries that caused extensive bleeding into the tissues. It was considered by the pathologist as a form of "internal bleeding" and the effect would have been similar to "bleeding out" and would have at least contributed to his death.
There were also multiple blunt force impacts to the head and a range of other injuries, including a punctured lung. Some injuries were consistent with older injuries and could have occurred days before his death.
At the time of the fatal beating, Sio said his "mind was racing" and he "felt angry" at the child.
He said he had been stressed out for the previous three days and hadn't slept as he had tried to "find a house and do everything else".
He also told police, "I did what happened to him, I did all of it. I know I shouldn't have done it, know it's wrong."
The summary said Sio admitted he was "not the parent of the year" and was not equipped to parent a child.
Ferro-James was described by friends, family members and school staff as being a "polite, friendly child who had a great nature", the summary said.
Sio's lawyer Fraser Wood said Sio was remorseful.
"It has been a difficult journey for him that he is responsible for his son's life and that is something he deeply regrets."
Justice Gault said a cultural report said he was of Samoan and Pākehā heritage and had a difficult upbringing. They moved around a lot and he started smoking cannabis at 13 and using methamphetamine about the age of 15. He would use about a point of methamphetamine a day when he had it.
The cultural report said he had anti-social personality disorder and cannabis and methamphetamine-use disorder.
"You say your goal is to try and better yourself and turn your life around," Justice Gault said.
At sentencing today, Ferro-James' aunty had her victim impact statement read by Crown Solicitor Amanda Gordon.
"You are supposed to love and care for your baby," the statement said.
She described Ferro-James as "the most loving, easy, kick-back kid" and if Sio was struggling to look after him, he could have asked for help.
"So many people would have taken him in a heartbeat."
Outside the court, a friend of the family said there had to be something more come out of this to stop it happening again.
She said Ferro-James could have been so much more than a face for anti-family violence.
Ferro-James' mother's older sister told the Rotorua Daily Post the family were reasonably pleased with the court sentence. She said they had so much they wanted to say but couldn't find the words today.
What the officials say
The Rotorua Daily Post asked Oranga Tamariki and the Ministry of Social Development to respond to questions.
Oranga Tamariki was asked if it was aware of Ferro-James' case.
Oranga Tamariki was also asked if it had since done a review of Ferro-James' case and if anything more could have been done from its point of view to protect Ferro-James.
In a written statement provided by Oranga Tamariki, services for children and families north deputy chief executive Glynis Sandland said the death of any child was devastating for the family and their community.
"I would like to acknowledge the ongoing grief Ferro-James' family will feel."
They said the death was subject to an active coronial inquiry. The coroner would investigate the cause and circumstances of the death and decide if recommendations should be made to prevent similar deaths in the future.
Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner for the Bay of Plenty, Mike Bryant, said in response to questions their sympathies were with the whānau for the tragic loss of Ferro-James and the trauma this had caused.
He said the ministry wasn't able to answer some questions as the case was still before the court and there was an active coroner's inquiry.
He pointed to recently-announced changes to improve emergency housing for children and families, which included the ministry contracting certain motels and providing wrap-around services.
He confirmed the Union St property was no longer used for emergency housing.
"There are several important things to note. Firstly, not all those staying there were having their accommodation paid for as a result of an MSD emergency housing grant. Secondly, it would not be correct to assume that because someone was staying at a particular provider, that they have been directed there by MSD."
He said some clients expressed a preference about where they wanted to stay and the ministry was not in any way leasing or contracting this property.
Bryant said emergency housing was the last resort when people had nowhere else to go.
"We seek to assist New Zealanders within in an environment of very high demand for emergency accommodation, and limited accommodation options."