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A New Hampshire man tied to the murder of once-missing child Elijah Lewis will spend the next few decades in prison.
Joseph Burtold Stapf pleaded guilty on Thursday, Sept. 29 to several charges related to the 2021 homicide of his girlfriend’s 5-year-old son, Elijah Lewis, according to court records reviewed by Oxygen.com. Stapf was then sentenced to two to five years for second-degree assault, two to five years for falsifying evidence and 20 to 40 years for manslaughter, the most serious of the charges.
“I wish I could go back and change everything, and I wish I sought help,” said Stapf, according to ABC Manchester, New Hampshire affiliate WMUR. “Elijah deserved to be loved. He didn’t deserve to go through that. I’m so sorry. I truly am. I wish I could take it back. I’m sorry.”
Prosecutors say Joseph Stapf, 31, and Lewis’s biological mother, Danielle Dauphinais, 36, were behind the death of the Merrimack, New Hampshire boy, whose body was found in a shallow grave in the Massachusetts wood Oct. 23, 2021. Lewis’ cause of death was a result of multiple factors, including violence, neglect, injuries to the face and scalp, malnourishment and acute fentanyl intoxication, as previously reported by Oxygen.com.
Officials say Lewis died between Sept. 21 and Sept. 24, 2021, according to WMUR, though the boy wasn’t declared missing until Oct. 14 of that year after the New Hampshire’s Division for Children, Youth, and Families realized he was gone. By then, the boy hadn’t been independently seen in about six months.
On Oct. 17, 2021, three days after Lewis was reported missing, Stapf and Dauphinais were arrested in New York City and charged with child endangerment and hindering searches for the boy.
On Oct. 23, Lewis’s body was discovered.
Dauphinais remains in custody, facing charges of first- and second-degree murder for her son’s death.
In court, prosecutors assigned to Stapf’s case focused on the couple’s alleged abuse of Lewis, sharing a series of texts between Stapf and Dauphinais, according to WMUR. In one of these texts, Stapf reportedly requested the boy’s mother feed Lewis and let him sleep so as not to draw suspicion when out in public.
Assistant Attorney General Bethany Durand read one of Stapf’s texts aloud in court.
“He said he wants food, and he wants me to stop starving him because it’s not nice,” Durand read.
In a text dated Sept. 16, 2021, just days before Lewis’s death, Stapf told his girlfriend they “cannot torture him again,” according to the Boston Globe. Dauphinais allegedly responded by saying she “was the boss, now.”
Around the time of Lewis’s death, Stapf said he came home to find a naked Lewis in the basement’s bathtub with a bleeding head injury, according to WMUR. Stapf allegedly helped Lewis to bed, but no one reported the injury to authorities or medical personnel.
“He suffered instances of assault, was denied food and water, was isolated in a room sometimes without clothing and blankets,” Durand stated. “He was left alone in that room to stand in one spot for hours at a time.”
Prosecutors say Dauphinais requested Stapf get rid of the body before the pair took off with Lewis in the back of a pickup truck before burying Lewis near an Abington, Massachusetts park -— about 70 miles south of Merrimack. They then left the vehicle at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut before they were arrested in the Bronx, New York.
Several members of Lewis’s family — including his grandparents and aunt — gave impact statements through victim advocates at Thursday’s hearing, according to NBC Boston affiliate WBTS-CD.
Lewis’ biological father, Timothy Lewis, also read a statement via a call from Arizona, according to the Manchester outlet.
“You are less than human,” said the victim’s father. “You could have stepped up to stop this at any point if you had been man enough. You could have brought him back to us at any point.”
Elijah Lewis was born in Arizona but moved to Merrimack with Dauphinais following a contentious divorce in 2017, according to the Boston Globe. She has pleaded not guilty to her son’s murder.
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