A week before JJ Lawrence was murdered, his aunt went to check on him because his father was concerned the tot was in danger.
She thought the 2-year-old was okay, never imagining that days later he would be killed by a man who had been subjecting him to months of abuse, including breaking his arm twice and forcing him to smoke dope.
Yesterday - exactly a year after James Joseph Ruhe Lawrence died from a blow to his tummy so hard that his pancreas and liver split in half - the man who had made his short life hell was found guilty of murder.
Joel Loffley began a relationship with JJ's mother, Josephine Lawrence, last year. While in Loffley's care JJ received two arm breaks - one left for days as Ms Lawrence was too drunk to seek help - and numerous other injuries.
Loffley "played rough" with JJ and was seen making him smoke an asthma inhaler full of marijuana.
JJ was visibly terrified of Loffley, but could do nothing to escape.
He was so scared that on the day he died, he did not want to stay with the man while his mother went out.
As Ms Lawrence went to leave the house to organise a bank overdraft, JJ followed her. He wanted to go with her instead of staying with Loffley, who was insistent JJ stay behind.
"Leave that boy with me. That boy is mine today," he told her.
JJ died wearing just a nappy. After Loffley delivered the fatal blow he tucked the little boy into bed and left him to die.
Photographs of the house show how little JJ had in life. His bed was just a base with no mattress and it was strewn with his little clothes.
His bedroom had a television on top of a shabby set of drawers and an alphabet rug on the floor with a couple of old-looking toys on it. Aside from those items, his room was bare.
In the next room, where Loffley and Ms Lawrence slept, police found a large wooden blade with a handle at least half a metre long stashed behind a chest of drawers. This blade, Ms Lawrence told them, had been used on JJ by Loffley.
Violence seemed to be commonplace in the household and at only 4kg, JJ was very vulnerable against a solid and menacing Loffley.
Ms Lawrence told the court during the trial that she was scared of Loffley, that if she didn't do what she was told she would get "a hiding".
She wasn't even safe on her birthday in September last year. Loffley smashed her in the face with his elbow, bruising her badly. In a photo taken that day Ms Lawrence used JJ to hide the bruising, holding him up in front of the injured half of her face.
Around the same time she penned sadly prophetic words on a piece of paper outlining the impact Loffley's physical abuse had on her and JJ.
"I am scared for my son ... afraid for my son's welfare ... scared he's going to be hurt and taken away," she wrote as part of an exercise set for an anger management course Loffley had to attend after beating her.
JJ was born in Auckland to Ms Lawrence and James Ruhe. Life was far from perfect for the young couple as Ruhe was in and out of prison.
Ms Lawrence would take the baby to prison to see Ruhe and as JJ grew older they would talk on the phone regularly. Ruhe said his ex-partner was "always loving" towards JJ, who was her "number one priority".
JJ was a happy little boy and Ruhe had an "awesome" relationship with him - until Loffley came on the scene.
Once Loffley moved in, contact with Ruhe stopped and he became worried. People who knew Loffley told Ruhe that he was a "shady character" not to be trusted.
Ruhe asked his sister to check JJ was all right. She visited the house once, and believed the toddler was okay.
She planned to meet with Ms Lawrence and her son on the Sunday for a picnic, but that was cancelled because JJ "had an earache". He was killed the next day.
Sadly, JJ's life story is not unique, as tragic as it is. No child deserves to suffer as JJ did; to be the plaything of a violent thug.
When we blogged about the guilty verdict returned against Joel Loffley yesterday, regular commenter bsprout attempted to make a political statement saying this:
It's a pity that the government has only invested in the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff stuff and have gutted all the initiatives that would stop these things happening in the first place:
Looking beyond the fact that the measures proposed by Paula Bennett in her White Paper on Vulnerable Children (a far more wide-reaching solution than Labour, supported by the Greens managed in nine years) have yet to be fully implemented, we suggest that no political initiative could have prevented this.
You can't blame poverty either. As we recall, evidence was given at the trial that both Loffley and Ms Lawrence were receiving welfare benefits despite living together. Loffley supplemented his benefit by selling cannabis from the couple's home. A lack of money did not cause JJ's death. And bsprout should reflect on those ripping off the welfare system, especially those who think it is their "right" to do so. The money being paid out to welfare cheats would be far better spent elsewhere in the economy.
JJ Lawrence never really had a chance. His father was in prison when he was beaten to death, and his mother made no end of bad choices. JJ really was a headline waiting to happen.
The parallels with the Nia Glassie case are inescapable; a child whose light was snuffed out by the persons her mother brought into her life. But in the Nia Glassie case, Lisa Kuka was charged with manslaughter for her contributory negligence, found guilty by a jury, and sentenced to nine years imprisonment. To the best of our knowledge Josephine Lawrence is not being prosecuted. In our opinion, she most certainly should be; leaving a vulnerable child in the care of a violent, angry man who administered drugs to the child was negligence of the highest order.
Sadly, New Zealand has more Nia Glassies and JJ Lawrences waiting to hit the newspapers. Somehow, the message has to be sent into dysfunctional homes that torturing children is not OK. Perhaps a non-parole period for Joel Loffley north of 25 years (unlikely) would get the message across, but probably not.
The civil libertarians have bleated long and hard about some of the measures in Paula Bennett's White Paper. Perhaps it's time for them to concentrate on the rights of the Nia Glassies and JJ Lawrences of this world, and less on the rights of those who torture and kill them. As far as we are concerned, when you beat and abuse children, you forfeit rights.
It's time that those of us who find the murder of JJ Lawrence abhorrent found our voices, and denounced violence towards children in the strongest possible terms. Will you join us?