WMUR-TV reports Joseph Stapf pleaded guilty Thursday, Sept. 29, to manslaughter, second-degree assault, falsifying physical evidence, and tampering with a witness. A judge sentenced him to 22 to 45 years behind bars.
Five-year-old Elijah Lewis was reported missing to Merrimack Police on Oct. 14, 2021, but he had not been seen for six months. Police searched for Stapf and Elijah’s mother, Danielle Dauphinais, because police had not previously known about the disappearance.
The two were ultimately apprehended in New York City on witness tampering and child endangerment charges. The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office alleged Stapf and Dauphinais "asked other people to lie about Elijah and where he was living knowing that child protection service workers were searching for Elijah."
Elijah’s body was found about 10 days after he was reported missing. According to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, on Oct. 23, 2021, law enforcement officials located the little boy’s body in a wooded area in Abington, Massachusetts. The autopsy determined Elijah died from "violence and neglect, including facial and scalp injuries, acute fentanyl intoxication, malnourishment, and pressure ulcers."
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Massachusetts said he died by homicide.
According to WMUR, officials believe Elijah died between Sept. 21 and Sept. 24, 2021.
WCVB-TV reports Stapf threw Elijah against a bed right before he died, and he got badly injured. The boy was reportedly left bleeding in a bathtub, but neither Stapf nor Dauphinais sought medical help for him.
WMUR reports Elijah was often denied food and water and forced to stand in one spot in a room for hours at a time.
Stapf reportedly said at the sentencing hearing, "I wish I could go back and change everything, and I wish I sought help. 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."
Elijah’s father called in for the hearing and told Stapf, "You are less than human. 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."