The little boy's body was a study in pain. He was covered in cigarette burns, including to his genitals. He couldn't fully open his hand because it had been burned on a stove. His tooth was broken with a nerve exposed. And he had been made to sit in his own urine and feces, authorities say.
As the 5-year-old remains hospitalized by kidney failure brought on from malnutrition, two county supervisors are blaming welfare and law enforcement agencies for missing chances to rescue the child from what police say were months of "unbearable psychological and physical abuse."
The case came to light after a woman called a hot line June 4, saying the boy told her at a commuter train station that his mother had burned his hand on top of a stove.
Summoned to a county Department of Children and Family Services office, authorities say, Starkeisha Brown brought her baby sitter's healthy 4-year-old son and daughter and tried to pass them off as her own.
Brown and her girlfriend ran from the office when a social worker questioned whether the child was really Brown's, authorities say. The boy was found nearby, after someone called 911 to report that a sick child with bruises had been left with a homeless person.
The child was taken to a hospital with a round belly common in cases of severe malnutrition. Police were shocked by injuries that showed the abuse was horrific and prolonged.
"I've never seen anyone with these kinds of injuries who has lived," Assistant Police Chief James McDonnell said last week. "This kid must have a tremendous will to live, to be able to still hang on despite what he's been through."
The anonymous June 4 call was the second public tip that the boy was at risk.
The agency is investigating why no one followed up an initial case review after a tip in November 2005 that the boy was neglected and at risk while in the care of his grandmother, who took the boy in after his mother was arrested for shoplifting.
An array of other agencies missed their chance to intervene, said Gloria Molina, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, including the state Department of Corrections and the county's Department of Probation, Department of Mental Health and foster care agencies that had case files for Brown and the two other women charged in the case.
"Why was there no intervention? It shouldn't have to be from the hot line," Molina said.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky blamed the "silo" mentality of agencies that do not reflexively alert one another to potential risks posed by cases.
Others missed chances to stop the torture. The boy's great-grandmother and two caretakers told the Los Angeles Times they saw scratches on his body, a large knot on his forehead and other warning signs but didn't want to believe that he was abused.
"I don't really know what I was thinking," said Donna Hunter, who took turns taking care of the child with his great-grandmother while his mother was in prison.
Brown, 24, turned herself in to police June 13. A woman authorities describe as her live-in girlfriend, 24-year-old Krystal Matthews, was arrested later. Both were charged with one count each of torture, child abuse, corporal injury to a child and dissuading a witness and two counts each of conspiracy. They face 25 years to life in prison if convicted.
Brown's attorney, Donald Herzstein, and a public defender assigned to Matthews both declined comment this week.
Both women have criminal records. Matthews was sentenced to three years of probation earlier this year for assault with a deadly weapon, according to court documents.
The boy's mother served 2½ years in prison for felony robbery of an elderly woman in 2003 and for petty theft.
A third woman, LaTanya Jones, 26, was arrested in the case Tuesday. Authorities said they believe that Jones, described as a baby sitter, disfigured the boy's hand by holding it to the stove. She has been charged with child abuse, corporal injury to a child and conspiracy to dissuade a witness.
Jones was ordered held in lieu of $180,000 bail Thursday. A sheriff's deputy at the jail did not know whether she had an attorney.
Jones' son, who Brown allegedly tried to claim was hers, and a daughter have both been taken into protective custody.
As for the 5-year-old, authorities describe him as withdrawn and shy but playful with people he trusts. He has a healthy appetite and began walking over the weekend with a slight limp. His burnt hand is healing well and regaining its range of motion.