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    Stepmother was sole caretaker when Roxbury boy was injured, prosecutor says

    04boy- Kenai Whyte, 3 year old who died on Alpine Street in Roxbury. (Family handout)
    Kenai Whyte was 3 when he died in February.

    The toddler’s head and neck were badly bruised, and a bone in his back was fractured. His eyes and ears had been gashed.

    As a Suffolk County prosecutor detailed the fatal injuries allegedly inflicted upon 3-year-old Kenai Whyte, a joyful boy who loved to play hide-and-seek with his older sister, his mother, Ashley Young, wept. She shook her head in disgust when lawyers described the boy’s stepmother as someone who loved him.

    Almost two months after the toddler’s battered body was found in his father’s Roxbury home, his stepmother — Marie Buie, 26 — was charged in his assault Tuesday. In Roxbury Municipal Court, a prosecutor said that Buie was supposed to be caring for Kenai while his father was away from the home.

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    She pleaded not guilty and her bail was set at $100,000.

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    “The injuries that were received were incredibly serious,” Assistant District Attorney Craig Iannini said in court. “[Buie] was the sole person in care of the child while the injuries occurred.”

    The state medical examiner’s office has not determined how the toddler died — but prosecutors allege that he had been assaulted, allegedly by Buie — and the death has not been ruled a homicide.

    But Iannini said the child was in “good physical condition” when he arrived at the Alpine Street home of his father, who shared custody of the child, according to witnesses, and said Buie could ultimately face more serious charges.

    Prosecutors did not provide a motive for the alleged assault, and homicide detectives are continuing to investigate the case. The toddler died at Boston Medical Center Feb. 2, two days after he was allegedly attacked, authorities say.

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    Kenai, who was nicknamed “Pooh Bear,” was the latest in a string of young children who died after apparent abuse or neglect, deaths that have cast scrutiny on the state’s child welfare agency, foster care system, and probate courts.

    Young declined comment after the hearing, covering her face as she left the courthouse. But Janice Johnson, a family friend, said she was stunned by the severity of the child’s injuries.

    “I’m at a lost for words, I really am,” she said. “It hurts. I’m heartbroken.”

    Johnson said it has been difficult to watch Young languish without an official explanation for her son’s death over the past two months.

    “I was concerned where this was going because it took so long,” Johnson said.

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    J.W. Carney Jr., Buie’s defense lawyer, said he was confident of Buie’s innocence.

    “There is no direct evidence that Ms. Buie inflicted these injuries,” Carney said, adding that Buie loved and adored Kenai. “We expect that the evidence will show that she will be exonerated on all charges.”

    Carney said Buie voluntarily surrendered to police after assault charges were filed, and has cooperated with investigators from the beginning. Buie has no prior criminal convictions, he added.

    Buie was charged Tuesday with one charge of assault and battery on a child with substantial injuries and is due back in court April 28.

    The Department of Children and Families had an open case with the boy before he died, according to court documents and DCF officials. DCF officials have previously said that a care provider told state child welfare officials that Kenai was well just days before he died.

    After the arraignment, a spokeswoman for DCF said the agency “will continue its own internal investigation of the case in collaboration with investigators.”

    According to court and family records, Kenai Whyte’s mother, father, and stepmother had a long history of relationship problems, which sometimes involved their children.

    David Whyte Jr., Kenai’s father, has a history of domestic violence arrests and restraining orders, although charges against him were repeatedly dismissed. His ex-wife, Kenai’s mother, once repeatedly told the Suffolk County Probate Court that Whyte had abused her, and that she feared for her son’s safety in his care.

    “I feel as if my child is in danger with his father,” wrote Ashley Young in a February 2013 probate filing. “If he can beat on me and abuse me, I feel he can do the same to my son.”

    Despite the abuse allegation, Whyte and Young shared legal and physical custody of Kenai until November 2015, records show.

    Whyte was later granted sole legal custody of Kenai after Young did not appear for a custody trial. Young said she missed the court appearance because she had just given birth to her daughter, who was born prematurely days before the hearing.

    Young said she called the clerk’s office to say she could not attend the hearing.

    Court records also reveal a tumultuous relationship between Whyte Jr. and Buie. Buie was once accused of attacking Whyte with a glass liquor bottle and biting him repeatedly after the two argued over Kenai’s care, records show.

    Police arrived at their Mattapan apartment on Dec. 16, 2013, to find Whyte bleeding and scraped, and Buie allegedly said she had been frustrated that Whyte had left her to care for his son by herself.

    “Buie stated that she told him that the child’s pediatrician ‘doesn’t even know who you are,’ and the discussion turned physical shortly after,” the police report read. Buie also allegedly told officers Whyte had pushed her, causing her head to bleed, before she pushed him down a set of stairs and into a glass door, which shattered.

    Buie was charged with assault and battery and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon; both charges were later dismissed.

    On Tuesday, Buie was ordered to have no contact with any children under 16 if she makes bail. She would be allowed to visit her 7-month-old daughter under the supervision of DCF.

    After the hearing, Debra Morris-Convington, Kenai’s paternal grandmother, left the courthouse in triumph, repeating that “Justice is sweet!”

    Jan Ransom of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH. Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @EvanMAllen.