A veteran homicide prosecutor called it one of the worst cases he has seen in his many years of trials.
A judge apparently agreed Tuesday as he sentenced Matthew Kuzdzal to 50 years to life in prison for sodomizing and beating his girlfriend’s 5-year-old son Sept. 15, 2013, in their West Side apartment, leading to the boy’s death two days later.
“This is as bad as it gets,” Assistant District Attorney James F. Bargnesi said of the sexual attack and fatal beating that Eain Clayton Brooks suffered at the hands of the 27-year-old defendant after Eain’s mother left Kuzdzal alone with her son while she ran errands.
He noted that Kuzdzal, who was supposed to be taking care of the boy, fractured Eain’s skull and sexually assaulted him.
Kuzdzal will probably die in prison, “which would be the right decision by the court,” Bargnesi said after State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns imposed two consecutive prison sentences of 25 years to life for second-degree murder and predatory sexual conduct against a child, the maximum he could order.
A medical examiner testified at last month’s trial that the fatal head injury required significant force, comparable to a fall from a 20-story building.
The boy also had bruises on his back and shoulders, abrasions on his hips and injuries in and around his rectum. The defendant’s genetic material was found on the boy’s underwear.
In sentencing Kuzdzal, Burns said that although the proof against him was not overwhelming, the jury’s determination was well-founded.
Regardless of any behavioral issues the defendant and the victim may have had, the judge told Kuzdzal, “You are the adult, and no child deserves to be treated like this.”
Before sentencing, Kuzdzal told the judge he takes full responsibility for his actions that led to Eain’s death, but he insisted that he didn’t sexually assault the boy.
“I think about it every day,” he said of Eain’s death, adding that he wished he could trade places with the boy. “But I can’t change what happened.”
He apologized to Eain’s father and his family as well as to Nora Brooks, Eain’s mother, who was pregnant with Kudzdal’s daughter at the time of the attack.
“I hope one day you can forgive me,” he told Brooks, who was in the courtroom.
Brooks did not speak but she did send the judge a letter expressing her feelings about losing her son at the hands of her former boyfriend.
After the Sept. 19 guilty verdict, Robin Hart, Nora Brooks’ mother, said her grandson’s death could have been prevented. She blamed her daughter and Erie County Child Protective Services for failing to act on her complaints about Kuzdzal’s alleged abuse of the boy before his death.
District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III rejected calls for his office to prosecute Brooks for her alleged failure to prevent the sexual assault and fatal attack on Eain. “Ms. Brooks did not participate in the defendant’s crimes, did not assist the defendant in committing these crimes, and was not present when the crimes occurred,” he said after the verdict.
Bargnesi told reporters Tuesday that Brooks cooperated in the investigation of Eain’s death and was a vital prosecution witness at the trial. He said Buffalo police are reviewing the CPS report on Eain. “If there is any credible evidence indicating a crime by Nora or anyone else, it will be further evaluated,” Bargnesi said.
State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, praised Burns for giving Kuzdzal the maximum sentence and also cited Eain’s relatives for fighting to reform the CPS system to protect all children from domestic violence and death.
Kuzdzal, who testified at trial, admitted he lied to police and Brooks the night of the attack when he told them Eain had fallen down the basement stairs while carrying the laundry.
He changed his story during a Sept. 18, 2013, interview with homicide detectives after Valvo showed him photos of Eain’s injuries. He told the detectives he pushed Eain hard toward the bathtub after the boy wet himself and refused to take a shower, causing him to fall and hit his head on the tub. He said he spent the next half-hour trying to revive him, before texting Brooks at 7:25 p.m. to tell her that the boy had fallen and asking her what to do. He then called 911.
Kuzdzal testified that he used heroin daily at the time and had shot up the morning that Eain was injured.
Robert J. Cutting, Kuzdzal’s attorney, said he will appeal the conviction and sentencing, contending that his client was guilty of manslaughter, not murder, but the jury was not allowed to consider the less serious charge under state law.