A man who murdered his ex-girlfriend’s two-year-old son has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 25 years after the couple’s horrific abuse was captured on secret recordings.
Defenseless Kyrell Matthews was left with 41 rib fractures and numerous internal injuries after weeks of cruelty at the hands of Kemar Brown and Phylesia Shirley, the Old Bailey heard.
Brown, 28, was convicted of murder while Shirley was cleared but found guilty of the alternative charge of manslaughter after a six-week trial.
They appeared alongside each other in the dock on Friday and remained expressionless as Brown was sentenced to at least 25 years in prison while Shirley was jailed for 13 years.
The toddler, who was non-verbal, could be heard crying and screaming on distressing audio files found on Shirley’s phone by police and played to jurors during the trial.
Multiple recordings taken over the final weeks of his life captured the sound of Kyrell being hit repeatedly, with Brown saying “Shut up” and “You have to ruin the fun”.
Judge Mark Lucraft QC told the killer on Friday: “Those six words show your disregard for him and his life.”
Another recording caught Shirley striking her son and causing him to break down in distress.
Prosecutor Edward Brown QC told jurors the mother put her relationship with Brown above her own child.
The couple, who were unemployed at the time of Kyrell’s death, were both cannabis users and are understood to have been visited by social services at least once.
“(Shirley) was prepared to reject what should have been motherly care in protecting Kyrell in favor of abuse by her – his own mother – and in favor of the abuse carried out by a man she knew was abusing her child,” Mr Brown told jurors.
In a 111 call made after Kyrell collapsed at home in October 2019, Shirley sobbed as she was told by a clinical adviser to use both hands and “push down fast” and “go for it”.
Both defendants, from separate addresses in Thornton Heath, south London, declined to give evidence during trial, but the court heard Brown’s defense would be that the injuries inflicted were the result of incorrect advice from the operator on how to resuscitate Kyrell.
Kyrell’s father Kyle Matthews paid tribute to his “happy, playful and loved little boy taken from us in the cruelest of ways”.
In a written statement read on Friday, he said the killing had left him racked with guilt for not being able to save his son, despite the court hearing the couple “conceal(ed)” the abuse from family members.
“We take comfort in the fact that Kyrell was very much loved by me and my family and I and we will carry him in our hearts forever,” the statement said.
“We have been left with a huge hole in our lives.”
Kyrell’s paternal grandfather Karl Matthews said the audio tapes left the family feeling the little boy had been “tortured”.
He added: “We really wish you all could have seen Kyrell as the little boy we loved who had such bright eyes and the most infectious smile.”
Jurors were not told that police had been called to an earlier domestic incident but no offenses were identified and Kyrell was said to have appeared “safe and well”.
It followed an attack in May 2019 when Kyrell suffered a significant injury to the side of his face and spent five days in Croydon University Hospital.
The hospital carried out an investigation and found Shirley’s explanation that Kyrell had fallen off a sofa and hit his head on a highchair was “plausible,” police said.
Eleven out of the 12 jurors returned to court on Friday to see the couple being sentenced, while members of Kyrell’s paternal family sat together in the well of the court.
Brown’s lawyer Mark McDonald said the audio clips were “horrendous” and argued “the only mitigation” was that he had not intended to kill the boy by inflicting the injuries.
Louise Sweet QC, defending Shirley, said the mother had admitted to allowing her son’s death prior to the trial, showing she “accepted at core the heart of her criminality, which was failing to protect Kyrell”.
The barrister added that Brown appeared to have played the “dominant” role in the relationship and was “older and more sophisticated” than Shirley.
Passing sentence, Judge Lucraft said: “Many others looking from the outside into this case, and particularly those who desperately seek to have a family, will struggle to understand how those primarily responsible for this little boy’s nurture and day-to-day care can have acted so cruelly to take his life.
“He was just a month over his second birthday when he was killed. The photographs and video clips show him to be a bright and bubbly little boy.”
The judge described the recordings in their entirety as “harrowing and deeply upsetting”, and said there had been “an element of degradation and or sadistic behaviour” towards the toddler.
“You should have been caring for this two-year-old boy, not abusing him,” he told Brown.
He also told Brown, who has multiple previous convictions, his conduct towards Kyrell had been “cruel and brutal” and hr described the catalog of injuries inflicted against the toddler as “truly shocking”.
He added it is clear that Shirley had taken part in the violence, telling her: “Any normal parent’s response is to love and protect their child. You did neither, and it really mattered.”