The last time Dustin Aschenbrenner saw his 2-year-old son, Brodie, was Father’s Day 2011 at a coroner’s office.
“It ruined me, and it ruined my entire family for the rest of my life,” he said Tuesday at a sentencing hearing for Michael Alan Lee, the man convicted of Brodie’s killing. “I just want the justice my son deserves.”
Brodie’s mother, Arica Foster, and grandfather, Brad Moshier, also told Clark County District Judge Stefany Miley all they could about Brodie’s short life.
They remembered his sparkling blue eyes. They listened to a recording of Brodie’s laugh. His mother carried the blue, red and yellow “Go Spidey” backpack Brodie almost never put down. They talked about how he loved cheese pizza, Sponge Bob and The Wiggles songs.
He would dance for his stuffed animals, and later after she tucked Brodie in, his mother would kiss all of them goodnight, as he told her “love you Mommy.”
Two months ago, a jury found 29-year-old Lee, Foster’s former boyfriend, guilty of first-degree murder and child abuse with substantial bodily harm. On Tuesday, Miley sentenced Lee, who was on parole at the time of Brodie’s death for a 2004 conviction in a string of robberies, to life in prison without parole.
Brodie was a “rambunctious and silly” boy who loved his cousins and his friends and his grandma’s Chihuahas “a whole lot more than those Chihuahas loved him,” his mother said. “He didn’t know not to love people.”
When he visited his dad in Montana, he would hop on the lawnmower and wait for a ride.
“He was very innocent, very beautiful,” Aschenbrenner said. “I don’t know how to go about telling everything I’m missing out on.”
He tried to imagine what Brodie would never know: hunting, fishing, camping, baseball and birthdays, homework and poring over school pictures as he grew.
“I’ll never get to see him evolve into the young man I wanted him to be,” Aschenbrenner said. “I wanted to show Brodie how to stand up and be a good man, the rights and wrongs of life.”
Foster first noticed that the boy would bruise “mysteriously” in 2011 after he was left alone with Lee, prosecutors said. Two months later, Brodie died from severe injuries to his head and body.
While no one witnessed Lee abusing Brodie in the weeks or months leading up to his death, prosecutors said Brodie would throw tantrums when Lee was around.
Lee was arrested at his Henderson home five months after Brodie died. Lee had been alone in the couple’s apartment with Brodie the night of June 14, 2011, after Foster had fallen asleep.
The boy’s death shattered a family bond, Foster said. Now she has trouble trusting people and attending family gatherings.
She showed the judge a picture of Brodie smiling and then a photo of the family without him.
“He should be standing here,” Foster said. “It’s not fair to Brodie’s past or his future that he can’t be here. He gets nothing. I don’t think Michael Lee should either.”
Chief Deputy District Attorney David Stanton told the judge of Lee’s violent criminal past. He held up 11 banks, restaurants and other businesses, always armed with a weapon.
“I cannot think that a risk of this man being free again in society can ever be reduced or lessened,” Stanton said. “His behavior speaks for itself.”
Defense lawyer Nadia von Magdenko said there was no evidence at trial of chronic abuse or premeditation. She asked the judge to offer Lee a chance at parole.
Lee, who sat mostly silent and showed no emotion throughout Tuesday’s half-hour hearing, maintained his innocence.
“I respect your decision in whatever you come to,” Lee told the judge. “But I in no way can accept responsibility for something I had nothing to do with.”
Moshier told the judge that “my family will never recover from this. There is no closure.” After the sentencing, he said, “We are happy justice was brought for Brodie.”
Contact reporter David Ferrara at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039. Find him on Twitter: @randompoker.