A little boy in tremendous pain likely cried himself to death last month while lying on the floor of his bedroom for hours with a lacerated kidney, authorities said.
David Ward, the man who allegedly kicked or punched 2-year-old Riley Cuffee in the abdomen inside the Gloucester Township townhouse he shared with the child's mother, sobbed in court yesterday, but it was hard to tell if he actually shed any tears.
After the alleged assault on the afternoon of July 30, authorities say Ward left Cuffee to "die a slow, agonizing death" in the bedroom while he smoked marijuana and played beer pong with more than a dozen friends into the next morning.
"These charges reflect a horrendous crime," Assistant Camden County Prosecutor Ira Slovin said in Superior Court yesterday. "The victim was utterly defenseless against this defendant."
Ward, 30, of Gloucester Township, was ordered held on $750,000 bail on a murder charge. He told police that Cuffee had fallen down the stairs inside the townhouse at the Lakeview Terrace apartment complex sometime during that afternoon. The boy complained about pain on the right side of his head, Ward told police, so he gave him ice. Although the boy had vomited on his blanket, Ward told police he thought everything was "fine".
Authorities said they don't believe Ward did anything to help the boy once he assaulted him. A medical examiner found the injuries were consistent with a punch or kick to the abdomen, lacerating a kidney.
When Ward awoke the following morning, he told police he only saw Cuffee's twin sister, and when the girl went to wake Riley in the afternoon, the boy was dead.
Slovin, however, said there was a witness in the home that afternoon who questioned Ward after realizing the boy was still in his bedroom, supposedly asleep, at 5 p.m. The witness had been smoking marijuana upstairs with Ward the previous night and had seen the boy lying on the floor. Ward told the witness the boy was not feeling well.
Moments later, the witness overheard Cuffee's twin sister trying to wake the boy when he ran up to the bedroom, where the boy was still on the floor, blue. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Slovin said Ward had nearly a half-dozen municipal convictions for marijuana offenses and failed to appear in court more than a dozen times for motor-vehicle offenses.
A double baby stroller and a skateboard sat outside the home on a tree-lined courtyard where Cuffee lived with Ward and his mother. A man who said he was Riley Cuffee's grandfather declined to comment, saying the family still couldn't believe the boy was gone. Authorities said Cuffee's mother was out of state for business at the time of the alleged murder and had left her children in Ward's care.
Cuffee's father, Paul, could not be reached for comment but his uncle, David Cuffee, said his family was devastated.