JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 21-year-old man who pleaded guilty to aggravated child abuse in the April 2016 death of his girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years in state prison.
Jamarius Devonti Graham admitted he beat Aaliyah Lewis with a belt for soiling his bed but said he “never wanted to harm her or cause any major injuries to her.”
Before he was sentenced, he told the court: “I'm not perfect, but I'm not a monster.”
Graham testified that he was disciplined the same way as a child. He said he didn’t want to harm the girl, and it was a terrible mistake. But Judge Linda McCallum told him that what he did was inexcusable, and he needed to face the consequences.
Tears dripped down the faces of Aaliyah’s father and grandfather Wednesday morning as they had to hear the details of the 2-year-old’s death.
“She was everything a parent could ask for,” the girl's father, Andre Lewis Jr., said.
According to records from the Department of Children and Families, the toddler might have gone into shock from extensive injuries suffered from the beating.
“I felt that it was a homicide due to multiple blunt traumatic injuries,” medical examiner Dr. Peter Gillespie testified Wednesday.
But because Aaliyah's cause of death could not be determined, murder charges were never filed.
Asking for mercy, Graham testified that Aaliyah was conscious for hours after the beating but that when he picked her mother up from work, things didn’t seem right. Even so, neither called 911. Eventually, Graham dropped Aaliyah and her mother off at a fire station, but it was too late.
Aaliyah died at the hospital.
“He knew what he did, because he left her at the fire station. Left them,” said Kenneth Barlow, Aaliyah's maternal grandfather.
According to DCF officials, had the couple sought medical attention earlier, Aaliyah might have survived.
“It appears the mother and boyfriend waited until Aaliyah was dead to seek help," DCF said.
But prosecutors called the beating evil.
“The only thing this could be classified as is torturing a 2-year-old,” assistant state attorney Alan Mizrahi said.
Graham faced up to 30 years in prison. Lewis and his family members asked McCallum for the maximum sentence, but Aaliyah's mother, Donisha Barlow, asked the judge for a minimum sentence.
Graham was dating Barlow when Aaliyah died. He had been babysitting the toddler when she had an accident on the bed, and he said he wanted to discipline her, hitting her multiple times with a clothes hanger and belt.
In asking the judge for leniency, Donisha Barlow said Graham “loved Aaliyah as his own.”
“I understand people do make mistakes, and I didn’t just leave my daughter with anybody. It was someone that I trusted,” Donisha Barlow said. “I’m just ready for all of this to be over with.”
Aaliyah was normally watched by a grandfather, but Donisha Barlow moved in with Graham two weeks before Aaliyah's death.
According to DCF records, Donisha Barlow initially lied to investigators about who Aaliyah had been with when she was injured.
DCF said that when Graham picked up Donisha Barlow from work, she saw the marks on Aaliyah’s chest, but they delayed seeking medical treatment, because "she was afraid Aaliyah would be taken from her."
In court Wednesday, Donisha Barlow said that in hindsight, she would have taken Aaliyah to a hospital.
“I was in a shock. We both was in a shock,” she said. “You're trying to see what is wrong with your child. You’re panicking. You’re nervous.”
But Donisha Barlow's own father said Wednesday that if the little girl had gotten medical treatment earlier, she would still be alive.
Both of Aaliyah’s grandfathers told News4Jax that they hope other people will see Aaliyah's story and think twice before they touch a child. They said the little girl only weighed 20 pounds and didn’t deserve any type of beating or punishment. Graham’s family members chose not to comment after the sentencing.
“(I'm) not elated, not happy, just relieved that it is finally over,” Lewis said after Graham was sentenced. “We got justice for Aaliyah.”