A violent drug dealer has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 24 years for the ‘brutal’ murder of his partner’s son, three-year-old Kemarni Watson Darby.
Nathaniel Pope, 32, was found guilty of murder in April, following a five-month trial which heard that Kemarni had 34 separate areas of external injuries. He was today jailed for life at Birmingham Crown Court.
Kemarni’s mother, 31-year-old Alicia Watson, was cleared of murder but found guilty of causing or allowing his death. She was today jailed for 11 years for child cruelty and causing or allowing the death of her three-year-old son.
The toddler was kept in a room locked with an electrical wire in the cramped property in West Bromwich, Birmingham, as he suffered ‘a catalogue of horrendous injuries’ – likened to those of a car crash victim – in the weeks before he was killed.
Jurors heard that Watson and Pope, who blamed each other from the witness box, continued to live together for several months after Kemarni died from abdominal injuries in June 2018 when his ribs were ‘crushed’ at their two-bedroom flat in West Bromwich.
Passing the sentences, Mrs Justice Tipples said the three-year-old had suffered more than 25 rib fractures at four different points in time.
The judge told Pope and Watson: ‘This is a particularly distressing and tragic case.
‘Kemarni died on the afternoon of the June 5 2018. You, Nathaniel Pope, brutally assaulted Kemarni in the sitting room of his own home, and knowing he was in extreme distress and pain, you left him to bleed to death.
‘I am sure that you did this when Alicia Watson was out. When you (Watson) returned, you found Kemarni’s lifeless body on the sofa and dialled 999.’
The judge added that Kemarni’s injuries had been the result of extremely severe force ‘compatible with the type of injuries seen in a road traffic collision or when an individual falls from a height’.
Watson knew Pope was injuring Kemarni with punches and kicks and had done nothing to stop it, the judge said, while she also ‘regularly beat him hard’ with her hands.
Kemarni Watson Darby, pictured, suffered fatal abdominal injuries in an assault at the two-bedroom flat where he lived with Pope and his mother Alicia Watson in West Bromwich, West Midlands
Nathaniel Pope, 32, (right) and Alicia Watson, 30, (left) have been convicted of causing the death of three-year-old Kemarni Watson Darby who suffered weeks of ‘horrendous’ abuse before he died
The trial was told Kemarni had most likely been stamped on and had been subjected to physical abuse on several occasions in the weeks leading up to his death.
Watson lied to several people about her son’s injuries – telling his nursery and other family members that he’d been hurt in a play fight with his siblings.
On the day he died, she took Kemarni to a medical centre where she told medics her son was suffering from a suspected stomach bug.
At no point did she disclose that he had been assaulted and heartbreaking CCTV shows the mum and son visiting a McDonald’s just hours before he died.
Other images show the cramped and squalid conditions at Watson’s two bedroomed flat with litter strewn across the property.
Expert pathologists gave evidence that it was extremely likely that Kemarni suffered the fatal injuries when he returned home from the doctor’s appointment.
They believed there was no way he could have stood up and walked, let alone make it to the doctor’s surgery with the injuries he later died of.
Mother claimed the case against her was ‘disgustingly wrong’
Alicia Watson cut a defiant and angry figure during much of her six days of evidence – accusing barristers of lying and dismissing the case against her as ‘disgustingly wrong’.
On the fifth day of her testimony, the 30-year-old suffered a nosebleed and told the jury she was mentally and physically exhausted – and was ‘done’ with giving evidence.
The trial judge at Birmingham Crown Court then allowed Watson to complete her testimony by videolink at HMP Foston Hall in Derbyshire – with the end of her cross-examination limited to just one hour.
Watson had always insisted at trial that her son Kemarni must have been attacked by her former lover, Nathaniel Pope, while she was away from their flat, but also claimed she had no idea how he had suffered broken ribs.
During questioning by Pope’s QC Jonas Hankin she spoke of being ‘p****d off’ with some of the questions ranged at her.
During his time-limited questioning of Watson, prosecutor Tony Badenoch QC asked her to account for 34 non-medical related external injury sites found on Kemarni’s body, including some containing multiple bruises.
Asked how many of the injuries she had been aware of, Watson replied: ‘None. He had old scarring from accidents but nothing new as far as I knew.
‘I didn’t cause them, I didn’t see them. I loved and cared for my child for three years.’
Claiming to have been horrified at ‘learning’ of Kemarni’s internal injuries, including damage to his abdomen, Watson repeatedly denied lying.
Mr Badenoch put it to Watson that she had not been living with a ‘secretive child abuser’ but acted with Pope to abuse Kemarni ‘for days, months and hours on end’.
Watson said the Crown’s case was ‘disgustingly wrong’, but jurors unanimously convicted her of child cruelty and causing or allowing her little boy’s death, after a 65-day trial.
Kemarni was left with a ‘plethora’ of severe injuries including multiple fractures to his rib cage and wounds to his liver and colon.
Bruising was also uncovered on his lungs, head, mouth, neck, arms, chest, abdomen, back and legs.
In a harrowing 999 call played to the jury, Watson can be heard telling operators her lifeless son was ‘not responding’.
The call-handler asks her ‘Is the patient breathing?’ to which she replies: ‘Yeah, but he’s not responding to me.
‘He’s three-years-old, he’s not responding, he’s not responding.
‘I took him to the doctors this morning and I’ve just gone to pick up my other children but he’s not responding to me.’
She then goes on to tell the operator ‘his breathing is quiet’ before she can be heard sobbing down the phone.
The judge added that she was sure Pope was under the influence of cannabis when he killed the three-year-old.
The judge told Pope: ‘The final assault involved multiple blows to his chest, limbs and abdomen from fists, kicking or with an object.
‘This was a severe and sustained assault which will have caused extreme distress and pain and that would have been obvious to you.
‘Abusing Kemarni was and became an accepted course of conduct in the flat. Kemarni was not your son and he did not mean anything to you. You saw him as a nuisance who got in the way of your relationship.’
Among the fatal injuries to the toddler’s body were four rib fractures believed by pathologists to have been caused up to four weeks before he was killed at his home.
Pope, who was jailed for four months in 2011 for a brutal attack on a young mother on a London bus, claimed he had not seen or heard the final fatal attack.
The former warehouse worker, from Wolverhampton, has previous convictions for burglary and possession of heroin with intent to supply.
Watson, of Handsworth, Birmingham, swore at Pope’s QC while giving evidence and denied any wrongdoing.
During the trial, it emerged that she had bought cannabis and spent money on driving lessons as Kemarni lost his nursery place due to lack of funds.
The trial was told that Kemarni would already have been 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 he was given medicine for a suspected stomach bug.
Giovanni D’Alessandro, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: ‘This was a deeply disturbing case of two people who were supposed to be protecting a defenceless three-year-old boy but instead subjected him to cruelty and repeated bouts of violence.
‘It’s incomprehensible that little Kemarni was subjected to such heinous acts of brutality in his final days, causing him intense and ongoing pain and distress before ultimately killing him.
‘Rather than take responsibility for their actions, both Watson and Pope repeatedly lied and sought only to blame one another for all of these crimes.
‘My thoughts are with the remaining members of Kemarni’s family. Nothing can bring him back, nor do I imagine that this conviction will bring comfort to those that knew and loved him.
‘What I do hope is that the fact that his killer has been brought to justice and that he faces a lengthy prison sentence will assist them in coping with their grief and loss.’
Yesterday, Kemarni’s father revealed how he was ‘deceived’ by the ‘lying couple’ and paid tribute to his son.
In a statement read to a sentencing hearing by a barrister at the same court on Monday, Darren Darby said: ‘My son Kemarni was an active, fun, boisterous, cheeky young boy. He was always smiling and laughing.
Pictured: During the trial, jurors were shown pictures of an injury to Kemarni’s right eye
Pictured: The court was shown this image of Kemarni eating toast with a clump of hair on the right of the frame
CCTV issued by West Midlands Police of three-year-old Kemarni Watson Darby walking with his mother Alicia Watson
Pictured: Pope was jailed for four months in 2011 after attacking a young mother, dragging her off a London bus by her hair and beating her in front of her children after the young woman’s pram accidentally nudged his partner’s pram
‘His life has been cruelly cut short. He had the potential to be so much.
‘I will not get to be involved in the key moments of his life.
‘Kemarni was loved by so many people, both friends and family. Everyone has been impacted by his death.’
Mr Darby, who is currently studying at university and made his statement two weeks after the trial ended, went on: ‘We had to wait over three years before we could lay Kemarni to rest because of the criminal inquiry.
‘When I first heard the news that Kemarni had died I cannot put into words how I felt.
Chilling 999 call Alicia Watson made after her partner murdered her son
Call handler: ‘Ambulance service, is the patient breathing?’
Watson: ‘Um yeah but he’s not responding to me, he’s three.’
Call handler: ‘He’s three? He’s three-years-old?’
Watson: ‘He’s three-years-old, he’s not responding.’
Call handler: ‘He’s not responding?’
Watson: ‘He’s not responding, no. I went to the doctors this morning, I’ve come back home, he’s not responding to me.’
Call handler: ‘Ok, is his breathing noisy or quiet?’
Watson: ‘He’s breathing quiet.’
Call handler: ‘His breathing’s quiet, and he’s three-years-old?’
Call handler: ‘Just stay calm for me, we’ve got the help arranged, what’s the address?’
‘As time went on I would be told about the injuries Kemarni had. It didn’t come all at once, it was piece by piece, revelation by revelation.
‘Both Alicia and Nathaniel told lies so you can’t be sure what’s truth and what’s fiction. All I feel is anger towards them – I feel deceived by them.
‘It’s about coping now – trying to get through each day. When you are in this situation it doesn’t seem real.
‘It’s a true life sentence for me and my family. There is no coming back from this – Kemarni is not coming back.’
A four-month trial followed where the jury 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 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.
Jurors were told Pope was convicted of common assault and was jailed for the bus attack, but were not given further details of the attack following legal argument.
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.
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.’
One of the bedrooms in the two-bedroom flat where Kemarni Watson Darby was murdered in West Bromich back in 2018. Watson and Post, who were both also found guilty of multiple child cruelty counts, lived together in rooms strewn with rubbish and clothing
This photo issued by West Midlands Police shows electrical wire being used a makeshift lock on a bedroom door at the flat where three-year-old Kemarni Watson Darby was killed
In the living room, pictured, where Kemarni was shown eating toast next to a clump of his hair, there was tops of baby bottles, pharmacy containers and plastic bags splayed out on the ground
CCTV showed Watson take Kemarni to the shops and to McDonalds hours before his death
Pictured: 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
Both defence barristers offered mitigation to the court after Mr Darby’s statement was read today by prosecutor Tony Badenoch QC.
Jonas Hankin QC, representing Pope, submitted that the former warehouse worker’s ‘truly dreadful’ actions, with many aggravating features, should not be viewed in the same category as the ‘purposeful, systematic and perpetual abuse’ seen in some other child murder cases in recent years.
He said: ‘The fatal violence, grievous and brutal that it must have been, was not obviously dangerous to life.’
Watson’s QC, Charles Sherrard, said: ‘No matter what the court does, she has lost everything.
‘Of course the jury’s verdicts demonstrated that she is culpable in that loss.
‘She will come out (of prison) to a family that is understandably split between some that remain supportive and those that will always understandably remain extremely critical.
‘The effect on her mental health is significant. She is perhaps in a very dark place and may never come out of it.’