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Beat stepson, man tells trial

Also admits he has assault convictions

But says teen had no reason to kill him

Toronto Star, PETER SMALL, STAFF REPORTER, January 8, 2005

The stepfather of a youth accused in the grisly "Johnathan" slaying admits he physically disciplined his stepson "five or six times" but denied causing injuries or attracting the attention of the children's aid society.

The 42-year-old cook also admitted under cross-examination by two defence lawyers in youth court yesterday that he had several assault and drug convictions and successfully battled a narcotics addiction.

He agreed his stepson, who is accused of trying to murder him and killing the teen's younger brother Johnathan, showed suicidal tendencies, was treated for depression and failed Grade 9.

The 17-year-old stepson and two 16-year-old friends have pleaded not guilty in the savage stabbing death of 12-year-old Johnathan. The boy was found in the basement of the family's east Toronto home with 71 cuts to his body on Nov. 25, 2003.

The stepson and one of the teens have also pleaded not guilty to attempting to murder the stepfather with a knife and bat that same evening.

By law, none can be identified.

Court has heard a secretly taped phone call of the stepson and two friends boasting of plans to murder family members as they returned home.

The stepfather denied the family was fraught with stress in the months before the killing, but agreed they had suffered a house fire and his wife had slit her wrists in an argument.

"I was walking away from her and she slit her wrists," he testified, as his wife sat in court quietly sobbing.

The stepfather agreed under cross-examination by his stepson's lawyer, Robert Nuttall, that he used slippers and a belt to discipline the teen, but denied once beating him with a plastic bat, leaving not only a large bruise on his leg but long-term psychological injuries. He also denied punching him in the head in front of his friends at the boy's birthday party.

"Do you remember back when (the stepson) was 10 years old that the children's aid society came to have a little chat with you about a suggestion that (he) had made to a teacher that you had struck him?" Nuttall asked.

"I don't remember that part," the stepfather said, denying he later beat the boy for alerting the teacher.

The man agreed his stepson fought criminal charges that he threatened people, and that the boy's troubles prompted the family to enter therapy.

The stepfather agreed that in counselling, the boy said that "once or twice when I disciplined him it felt like abuse, and I said to him, `If that's what you feel, I'm very sorry.'"

"Do you recall (him) being angry at his mother for her failure to protect him from you?" Nuttall asked.

"I don't remember that part," he replied.

"Did you also call him names, names like stupid f---head?" Nuttall asked.

"No such thing happened," he replied.

The man denied the boy was so difficult that he and his wife neglected him, showering their attention on Johnathan.

The stepfather insisted that his older stepson had no provocation for trying to stab him the day of Johnathan's slaying, and that the teen held him while a second youth repeatedly beat him on the head with a bat.

He denied a suggestion from Dennis Lenzin, a lawyer for the second teen, that he used the bat sparingly and only to stop the stepfather from choking the stepson.

The stepson was calling out "help me," Lenzin suggested.

The stepfather denied it.

"I am going to suggest to you that he hit you a total of four or five times," Lenzin said.

"No ... he hit me more than that on my head," he replied.

Lenzin suggested the stepfather's injuries were no more than "a bump on the head and a sore thumb."

The stepfather replied, "There was also a scratch on the chest."

The trial continues Monday.