Over the course of two years, Kay-Ann Morris, 24, brutally punished her young niece, Shanay Walker, who was later found dead due to a brain injury.
The 7-year-old girl was found dead in the family's Nottingham, England, home in July 2014.
While Morris was cleared of murder charges because it could not be proven that the injuries she inflicted directly killed Shanay, Morris and her mother, Juanila Smikle, 54, were convicted of child abuse. Morris was sentenced to eight years in prison, and Smikle was sentenced to four.
During sentencing, the judge said the abuse persisted in part because the women had manipulated the little girl into lying about her injuries to concerned authorities.
"If you had not been so good at fooling them, who were unable to see the real you, Shanay would be alive today, regardless of how she came to die," Mr. Justice MacDuff said. "I consider you to be wicked and lacking in compassion."
Hours before the girl was found dead in her bed, she was seen running from Smikle’s home barefoot and told some local children she wasn’t okay because "her nana and her auntie were being horrible to her.”
"Shanay's body revealed the presence of 50 single or groups of fresh blunt force injury," prosecutor Richard Pratt said in court, according to the Telegraph. "The vast majority of these were bruises which were distributed across the face, torso, arms and legs. The most confluent areas of bruising (bruising that runs together) were on the hands, feet, and the buttocks."
Morris, described as a churchgoing Seventh-day Adventist, repeatedly abused Shanay for minor offenses. She had food and clothes violently shoved into her mouth, and Morris burned her with a hair-straightening iron.
Shanay eventually died of a subdural haemorrhage in her brain, and Morris claimed the girl had fallen down the stairs earlier that day but seemed fine when she went to bed.
"In the days that followed the investigation into the death of Shanay Walker broadened and revealed sadly the infliction of violence and cruelty that night, although obviously more serious that night, was by no means an isolated incident,” Pratt said.
Smikle was also found guilty of abusing three other children.
Shanay’s mother, Leanne Walker, was unable to care for her daughter due to postpartum depression.
"My beautiful daughter Shanay was entrusted to the care of family members who I believed would love and look after her," Leanne said after the sentencing, according to BBC. "Instead she was the victim of ongoing abuse and tragedy and her life was cut short before she could become the lovely woman I know she would have grown up into.
"Smikle and Morris have shown little remorse for their actions. It hurts and sickens me to know of the pain Shanay would have been in."