Rhode Island Man Gets Life for Child's Beating Death

A man was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for fatally beating his girlfriend's 3-year-old nephew because the child spilled milk and yogurt on a rug.

Gilbert Delestre apologized for his role in the October 2004 death of Thomas "T.J." Wright, telling Providence Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel he felt ashamed and prayed each day for forgiveness.

But Vogel called him a coward and "sick and evil" person whose only remorse was at having been caught.

"He cared more about his rug than he did about the well-being of this boy," Vogel said. "He cared more about spilled milk than he did about the safety of this boy."

Prosecutors said Delestre and his former girlfriend, Katherine Bunnell, took turns beating the boy after returning home in Woonsocket from a night out drinking and finding the mess. Both were convicted of second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

"He killed him, he beat him, it was prolonged, and T.J. Wright — no question about it — suffered," prosecutor Stacey Veroni said.

Bunnell and Delestre were caring for the child and his two older brothers because their mother, Karen Wright, was in prison.

Wright told the judge Wednesday that she no longer had a reason to get out of bed.

"Why'd you beat him so bad like that?" she asked Delestre. "You just kept beating him — couldn't stop, couldn't put him to bed."

Delestre testified he struck T.J. on his head, causing him to fall down a staircase, but never meant to kill him. He said he tried to catch the 32-pound toddler as the boy fell but failed.

The teenage baby sitter caring for the children that night said she heard several slaps after Delestre went upstairs to confront T.J. and later saw the boy flying across the floor. She was originally blamed for the death by Delestre, who later admitted he was lying to police when he said the baby sitter was responsible for the boy's injuries.

The case raised questions about how foster parents are screened and whether the children should have ever been placed with the couple.

A state panel found after T.J.'s death that the Department of Children, Youth and Families missed at least five opportunities to intervene in the case and erred by deciding Bunnell and Delestre, who were unemployed and had juvenile records, were suitable foster parents.

Delestre was sentenced to life plus 10 years in prison, and must serve more than 23 years of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. Bunnell received the same sentence.