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Family speaks of loss of 1-year-old at sentencing

Kim Payne stood in front of a judge in a Pomona courtroom Wednesday, holding a photo of her smiling grandson.

She spoke about the last time she saw the toddler alive. Malaikye, or “Kye” as his family called him, couldn’t sleep, so she sang to him in the dark in the early morning hours of Aug. 12, 2011.

Her next memory is far more bleak: Paramedics in the front yard of the boy's Asuza home, trying to resuscitate the 16-month-old. He was rushed to the hospital, only to be declared brain-dead upon arrival. Two days later, Kye was taken off life support.

Stephen Douglas Hoffman, a 24-year-old white man, was sentenced this week to 25 years to life in prison for Kye's killing. After a three-week trial in February, he was convicted of second-degree murder and assault on a child causing death. Hoffman, who was dating Kye's mother, Jazmin Payne, was taking care of the child while she was at work on an overnight shift at Disneyland, where the two met.

About 2:20 a.m. on Aug. 13, Hoffman texted Payne a photo of the child with a bruise emerging on his face, and told her that he had fallen off his 12-inch toddler bed and onto a toy, according to prosecutors. Payne returned home and went to bed about 6 a.m.

She was awakened about three hours later by Hoffman, who said the child was having trouble breathing. Payne called 911.

Hoffman changed his story twice more. He later said that he and the child were playing on the adult bed and the child fell and hit the back of his head, then he told detectives that the child had fallen off the bed and hit his head on the wall. Coroner’s officials testified in court that Kye sustained as many as 21 blows to the head. Doctors from the hospital said it was one of the worst injuries they had seen, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. 

Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives arrested Hoffman seven months after Kye died.

Family members and friends filled Thomas C. Falls’ courtroom Wednesday morning. Kye’s mother, father and both sets of grandparents explained how the loss of the brown-haired toddler who loved the Little Mermaid ride at Disneyland had changed their lives.

As they spoke, a middle-aged male deputy teared up. The prosecutor’s eyes welled with tears.  Hoffman, in an orange jail jumpsuit, remained silent, his head low, face straight ahead.

Hoffman’s mother, Gennifer, was given a chance to speak to the court before her son was sentenced. She said that Hoffman had stepped in and taken on a fatherly role for Kye.

“The bond between Kye and Stephen was apparent,” she said, adding that the hardest day of her life was watching Stephen stand by the child’s hospital bed. 

At one point, Stephen had attempted suicide after the death, she later said. 

"Stephen we love you, and we will always be here for you,” she said.

Kye's grandfather, David Payne, said that he often struggles with whether the 16 months he had with Kye was better than never knowing him at all.

“The fact that I was not there to save him is a living nightmare,” he told the court.

He and his wife, Kim, told the court about the things they miss and life events they will never experience: the child touching his chest to say I love you, Christmas, first dates and prom.

“I will never get to throw him another birthday party, he only had one,” Kim said.

Daniel Gray, Kye’s father, said the day that the child was born was one of the greatest of his life.  

“This is the day life changed for me,” he said.

His mother, Rachel Rodriguez, said looking at Hoffman made her sad to know that his cuffed hands had been used to kill her grandson.

“I wish one day, he would stand up and admit to what he has done,” Rodriguez said.

Jazmin Payne said it is difficult to describe what has been taken from her. She recently celebrated what would have been Kye's 4th birthday – March 29 --  with her younger daughter, who is 4 1/2 months old.

They went to Disneyland, where Kye had celebrated his first birthday.  She paused before the court, with tears in her eyes.

“He should be here,” she said.

After the proceedings, Taraneh Saba, the prosecutor, spoke to Kye's grandmother.

“Treasure the 16 months that he did have,” she said.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo: A photo of Malaikye Payne sent out by family to celebrate his first birthday. Credit: The Payne family

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