The little boy was stuck on the word sad.
Five-year-old Dashawn Harris had already endured hours of pain during his "home-schooling" phonics lesson, and with every mistake came another big-fisted punch or stinging lash from his mother's boyfriend's black leather belt.
He was crying and bleeding, and his mother was doing nothing to stop it. Now he was having trouble sounding out the "a" in sad.
Christian Patrick, 25, a convicted drug dealer, lived with Dashawn's mother, Lashay Patterson, in her unkempt North Philadelphia apartment. Patrick, called "Dude" by Patterson, later told police he had wanted to try a new method of teaching during the Nov. 30 lesson. He was going to be nice and not holler so much, he said.
But Dashawn was acting like he didn't know anything, he said, and that made him mad.
"When he got the 'a' part, I told him to tell me the last part of sad, because I wanted him to say it correctly," Patrick told police. "I told him if he didn't tell me the letter that made the 'd' sound, he was going to get another beating. So he said the letter 'w,' and I told him he was wrong, and he just started saying every letter except the 'd' sound, so I beat him again."
That is how the final hours of Dashawn Harris' life were described during a preliminary hearing Wednesday morning.
Covered in bruises, Dashawn was already dead when Patterson and Patrick finally called an ambulance early Dec. 1.
The couple tried raising the boy's dropping body temperature by placing a hair drier against his stomach, removing it when Dashawn managed to moan in pain. They taped toilet paper over the burn.
Patterson and Patrick initially told police that Dashawn fell off a bicycle before giving statements describing the months of pain they inflicted.
Assistant District Attorney Bridget Kirn asked homicide Detective James Pitts to read Patrick's statement in court.
Dashawn's online school lesson had started around 11 a.m., Patrick told police, beginning with rhyming words and a poem about a fire hydrant.
When they moved on to sounding out words, Patrick told police, he began to beat Dashawn.
"This is when we ran into the problem of him losing interest in his work," Patrick said in the statement.
Patrick, about 6 feet tall, weighing 230 pounds, said he warned Dashawn that if he did not finish his work, he would have to eat the previous night's soup instead of pizza. He threatened to take away Christmas.
"But that seemed not to faze him, either," he told police. "I told him, if he kept acting like he didn't want to do his work, I'm going to beat him."
He beat him with a belt, but Dashawn wouldn't stand still, so he punched him in the chest "like five times."
When Dashawn got stuck on sad, he began punching him again.
"His eyes went real low and he was sitting on the floor, and you could see him breathing, but he looked like he was passing out," Patrick said.
Patrick and Patterson put the boy's sluggish body in the shower, stripping him of his Batman underwear and splashing water in his face. They tried the hair drier, then put him to bed.
Patrick said he had suggested that they take Dashawn to the hospital earlier, but that the child's mother had refused, saying, "We would both get in trouble."
In her statement to police, read to the court by Detective Howard Peterman, Patterson said she had heard and seen Patrick beating Dashawn during the lesson, but it "didn't sound like he was breaking any bones or nothing like that."
She told police she and Patrick had regularly beat Dashawn since he began his kindergarten home-schooling.
"I'd say since he started school, he'd get beat maybe twice a week and the other days he'd just have to stand in the corner," she told police.
Detectives are still looking at the details of Dashawn's home-schooling, said Lt. Philip Riehl, who is leading the investigation.
A medical examiner testified Dashawn died from "multiple blunt impact" and said he couldn't count all the bruises.
As the details of Dashawn's death were read, Patrick stared at Patterson. She did not look back, at times rubbing her eyes but displaying little emotion.
Many in the crowded courtroom were moved to tears, including a sheriff's deputy and some of Dashawn's relatives, who did not want to speak after the hearing.
Kirn stood to make a final argument, but Judge David C. Shuter motioned for her to sit, saying it wasn't necessary. Wiping away a tear, he held Patrick and Patterson for trial on a charge of first-degree murder.