A man is on trial for torturing his three-year-old stepson to death after he moved in with the boy’s mother and allegedly committed acts described by one police officer as “the worst he has ever seen”.
Loic Vantal, 28, is on trial in the city of Reims in the eastern French department of Marne where he is accused of “aggravated deadly blows” and regularly beating young Tony in horrific events that led to the boy’s death, with traces of blood found all over the apartment.
According to French newspapers Le Parisien and Le Figaro, the accused admitted his guilt at the beginning of the trial.
Investigators analysing the apartment where the couple and boy lived described a dirty bedroom with no toys, meals that were few and far between, and incessant beatings.
The victim’s mother Caroline Letoile, who was 19 at the time of Tony’s death in 2016, has denied the charges brought against her.
She is charged with failing to denounce the poor treatment of her son and failing to assist a person in danger.
She told the court that her young boy had quickly become her partner’s “scapegoat” and that he regularly beat him. At the end of the first day of trial, as the forensic doctor was talking about the “23 lesions” identified on her son’s skull, she collapsed, leading to the temporary suspension of the trial.
Meanwhile, Vantal has numerous priors having already been convicted seven times for acts of violence. During his interrogation immediately after the young boy’s death, he reportedly admitted to investigators that he “never learned to talk to a child” and felt no attachment for Tony.
Letoile’s lawyer Hami Znati said her client had been afraid of Vantal. A police officer told the court about a kitchen with no food for children in it, while another officer spoke about a dirty bedroom with no toys or photographs and with a broken wardrobe.
According to Helene Langlois, the judge presiding over the trial, investigators conducted forensic analyses in the apartment in Reims and found traces of blood everywhere, including in the child’s bedroom, the toilet, bathroom, and living room.
The head of the juvenile division at Reims police station said: “Over the course of my 20 years as a police officer, this is the first time I have had such a dramatic and violent case.”
Tony died in hospital in November 2016, just a couple of months after Vantal moved in with his mother in September. The investigation showed, according to the French newspapers, that young Tony was beaten on a regular basis from the moment the defendant moved in.
The violence allegedly escalated dramatically in the week preceding the boy’s death.
Questioned by police officers at the time, Vantal said: “Ever since Tony sh*t himself a week ago, he hasn’t had a real meal, just a yogurt, a glass of milk or a biscuit sometimes.”
As far as the defendant was concerned, three-year-old Tony “was a kid who was not right in the head. He should have seen a shrink”.
According to the police officers, that statement is a way for the defendant to deny the reality of his alleged actions.
When Tony appeared to be unwell, his mother called the emergency services, saying that he had fallen.
Dr Beatrice Digeon, from the hospital that treated the young boy where he died just 48 hours later, said that he had been suffering from “fractures of the spleen and pancreas” and that these injuries could “only have been caused by two particularly violent blows. They looked like punches”.
She added that “98 percent of these lesions match up with mistreatment.”
According to the French criminal code, “aggravated deadly blows” falls short of murder because it does not include premeditation.
It is unclear if the defendant is being treated as a parent by the court. If he is, he faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. If he is not being treated as a parent, he faces 20 years behind bars, according to the French authorities.
The trial is ongoing.
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