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Detroit Mom, Stepdad Charged With Murder And Torture Of Her 5-Year-Old Son

Shane Shelton and Valeria Hamilton have been charged in the death of her son, Ethan Belcher, whose other family says he had “over 100 cigarette burns on his body” in addition to the wounds that caused his death.

By Dorian Geiger
Police handouts of Valeria Hamilton and Shane Shelton

A Michigan couple was jailed on murder charges this week after the woman's young son was beaten to death, according to police and prosecutors. 

Shane Robert Shelton, 27, and Valeria Lynn Hamilton, 27, have been charged with felony murder in the death of her 5-year-old son, Ethan Belcher, according to the Detroit Police Department. They also each face two counts of first-degree child abuse, one count of torture and one count of conspiracy to commit torture related to Ethan and their 3-year-old son.

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Officers were dispatched to a home in the 14600 block of Spring Garden Street in east Detroit shortly after 1:00 p.m. on Jan. 22 for an unknown issue. Upon arrival, they encountered medical personnel taking Ethan Belcher to an ambulance. He was rushed to the hospital but pronounced dead.

Authorities say they suspect the child was beaten to death. 

Ethan's 3-year-old brother was subsequently found at a different address with bruising on his head and face and also taken to a local hospital.

Police handouts of Valeria Hamilton and Shane Shelton

“The alleged facts in this case are extremely alarming,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement. “The evidence will come out in court.”

Wayne County Magistrate Joseph Boyer called the accusations in the child abuse case "quite disturbing," the Detroit News reported. 

Wayne County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Makepeace said during the couple's arraignment on Wednesday that Ethan Belcher had abrasions and loop-shaped bruising all over his body, which the medical examiner believes was inflicted with a cord, the News reported. He also said a preliminary autopsy indicated that one of Ethan’s toes was black, rotting and had gangrene. 

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Ethan Belcher's paternal aunt alleged that Ethan and his 3-year-old brother had been subjected to cruel and chronic abuse at the hands of Shelton and Hamilton, in front of five other children in the residence, Detroit Fox affiliate WJBK reported.

“He has over 100 cigarette burns on his body, he had frostbitten feet, and he was missing a toe that never was taken care of,” Ashley Belcher told Detroit NBC affiliate WDIV.

The grieving aunt claimed she reported the boys' abuse to authorities last year.

“Ethan had bruises from head to toe," she told WDIV. "His head was all lumped up, I mean, his eye was almost split open. The bruises were so bad on his bottom he couldn’t even sit down."

Lincoln Park Police told the station that they opened an investigation into the abuse and placed the children with their grandmother before sending "an evidence packet" to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, which refused to issue an arrest warrant, the station reported.

Ashley Belcher wanted to take both Ethan and his 3-year-old brother in, but she was told that the child protection agency wanted to keep the two together and she wasn't biologically related to the younger boy, WJBK reported.

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The boys were returned to the care of Shelton and Hamilton, who then moved into a place in Detroit that Makepeace described as "somewhere between an abandoned home and a construction site," the Detroit News reported. The surviving children allegedly told investigators that the adults would regularly beat them and lock them in the sewage- and feces-filled basement.

“The worst abuse case I have ever seen, and I am not sensationalizing it,” Detroit Police Chief James White told WDIV. “There are details about this case that I will never forget. And I know our officers won’t forget and it’s just horrible.”

“We could have saved his life,” Ashley Belcher told WJBK. “Had they just listened. It wasn’t just me. It was other people who reported it, and they got sent to take some classes, and they got these children back, and it was a house of terror.”

She described her nephew as a “happy,” “loving,” an energetic 5-year-old. 

"He didn’t even have a chance to have a good life,” Ashley Belcher also WJBK. “I wanted to give him a good life."

Shelton and Hamilton appeared in 36th District Court for their arraignment on Wednesday, during which Hamilton — who prosecutors said texted Shelton that she would "slam their kids so hard their heads will pop off" — cried during the proceedings, according to the Detroit News.

The couple are both currently being held without bail at Andrew C. Baird Detention Facility, according to online jail records obtained by Oxygen.com. They’re scheduled back in court on Feb. 1 for a probable cause hearing. 

Attorney information wasn’t immediately available for them.

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