9 Jul 2021

Sio gets life sentence for murdering son in emergency housing

6:04 pm on 9 July 2021

Warning: This story contains graphic details of child abuse and violence.

A man has been sentenced to life in prison for murdering his neglected young son while the family was staying in emergency housing last year.

Signage outside the Rotorua High and District Court

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Today in the Rotorua High Court, William James Sio, 25, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder and neglect of his five-year-old son, Ferro-James Sio in February 2020.

Justice Gault handed down the sentence with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years. Sio pleaded guilty to one charge of murder, three charges of ill-treatment of a child and one charge of assault on a child earlier this year.

A sentence decision released today outlined how Sio and his son's mother separated before Ferro-James turned one.

In 2017, Sio took full custody of his son. Ferro-James was described as being "a polite, friendly child who had a great nature".

Justice Gault called Sio's relationship with his de facto partner, Leza Rawiri, "volatile" and said the couple argued often.

From September 2018, the couple lived with Ferro-James at various locations around the Bay of Plenty and Waikato area. Ferro-James' attended Kohanga Reo in Tauranga, where his teachers noticed bruising on his body.

Justice Gault said Sio had unrealistic expectations of how his young son should behave. When Ferro-James' behaviour fell short of his expectations, often for minor things like failing to sit still or eat all of his dinner, Sio would physically assault him.

Sio would shut him in his room, sometimes all day, or punish him by making him stand in the corner of the room facing the wall, with his hands up in the air for up to half an hour at a time.

In January 2020, Sio, Rawiri and Ferro-James moved to emergency housing in Rotorua.

One morning in February 2020, Sio made his son stand facing the wall of the bedroom with his hands held straight out in front of him, hitting or kicking him if he placed his hand on the wall to support himself due to exhaustion.

Ferro-James was made to stand in his position for up to seven hours throughout the day and evening.

Sio violently kicked him multiple times when he could no longer stand up. One blow was so forceful Ferro-James could not talk and his breathing became shallow.

Sio told police he attempted to perform CPR and Ferro-James began breathing again.

He said he then put Ferro-James to bed before falling asleep, and woke up to find Ferro-James cold and not appearing to breathe.

Sio tried to perform CPR and the couple drove Ferro-James to Rotorua Hospital. The boy lay in the rear seat alone.

The couple parked some distance away from the emergency department and walked slowly to the hospital.

Upon reaching the hospital, Sio told staff he believed his son was already dead.

Hospital staff attempted to resuscitate him, but Ferro-James was pronounced dead.

A post-mortem concluded Ferro-James died of "multiple blunt force traumas from a sustained and severe beating".

The boy had extensive injuries to his head, limbs and torso and suffered extensive internal bleeding. He had multiple blunt force impact to the head and a punctured lung.

Sio told the police making his son by stand facing the wall with his arms outstretched for long periods was discipline.

Regarding Sio's personal history, Justice Gault said physical punishment was normalised in his upbringing and that he had a difficult childhood.

He did not know his violent father and his mother was on a solo parent benefit and struggled to get by, moving around regularly with his mother and half-sister.

Sio began smoking cannabis when he was about 13 or 14 and soon became addicted, smoking daily. He also began using methamphetamine at about 15 or 16, using about a point a day.

Justice Gault said Sio's mother was alive when he took full custody of Ferro-James and he felt able to care for his son with her support.

But she died about four years ago and her death was "traumatic" for Sio. Sio said he began drinking and attempted suicide, and felt ill-equipped to raise a child.

Justice Gault said since being in prison, Sio had worked to turn his life around, including working on anger management, exercising and staying away from drugs.

But he said psychiatric and pre-sentence reports showed a lack of insight into his offending or genuine remorse.

Rawiri was also a defendant in the case and was set to be sentenced on August 26.