Warning: Details in this article are disturbing
An Illinois father and stepmother will spend decades in prison in the starvation death of their 6-year-old son, who authorities say weighed just 17 pounds when he died.
Chief Circuit Judge Eric S. Pistorius on Wednesday sentenced Michael L. Roberts to 25 years in prison and Georgena L. Roberts to 20 years, The Alton Telegraph reported. The 43-year-olds from Jerseyville both pleaded guilty in November to first-degree murder in the 2017 death of Liam Roberts.
“For this to have occurred is beyond comprehension,” the judge said.
Authorities have said the couple starved the boy as a form of punishment and that they withheld food and nourishment on a regular basis. When he died, Liam weighed about a third of the typical weight of a 6-year-old. A preliminary autopsy indicated he died of extreme malnourishment.
Jersey County State’s Attorney Ben Goetten and Jerseyville Police Chief Brad Blackorby released a joint statement after the sentencing.
“We’re all glad to see the conclusion of this case,” the statement said. “It has been a tireless, disheartening process for both the family as well as those involved in the investigation and prosecution. The two solely responsible for the death of this beautiful child will now spend the better part of their adult lives in prison, where they belong.
“While we’ll never forget Liam, we hope the family and the community can now begin to heal from the trauma of this horrific crime,” it continued. “We have to remember that by the actions of these two individuals, Liam’s siblings lost not only a brother, but two parents that won’t be there to see them grow. We wish those kids the very best as they try to move forward with their lives.”
School personnel said Liam was so obsessed with food that, “When he came to school he would literally eat food off the floor,” Jerseyville Police Department deputy chief Maj. Scott Woelfel said. Woelfel noted that the night before Liam’s death the two boys were given bologna, the other children ate chicken strips and fries and the couple had steak.
Two witness impact statements — from Kim Roberts, Liam’s biological mother; and Jacob Racel, Kim Roberts’ son and Michael Roberts’ stepson — were given.
“I truly believe Mike is the devil,” said Racel.
Kim Roberts talked about the quality of a good father, saying, “Mike failed at all of these.”
She said Liam died “terrified” and “alone” and that it was necessary to punish the “evil people” who murdered her “beautiful son.”
Georgena and Michael Roberts made emotional statements and their attorneys asked for leniency. Michael Roberts described himself as a “coward” and said his son paid the price. His wife apologized, saying: “My heart is shattered and I will be forever broken.”
The sentences were at the low end of the spectrum, with Pistorius noting several factors, including a lack of prior criminal history for both of them, and a number of mental health issues for Georgena Roberts.