Babysitter gets 17 1/2 to 35 years in death of Philadelphia toddler

Aaron Pace avoided a trial on 1st-degree murder charge.
Aaron Pace avoided a trial on 1st-degree murder charge.
Posted: January 11, 2013

Almost three years later, memories of the protracted, horrific death of 20-month-old Suliaman Orrell Kirkland were enough to move veteran first responders to tears.

"In 14 years with the Fire Department, I've seen a lot of death and injured children, but this case is the most horrible thing I've ever seen," paramedic Colleen Stankiewicz said.

Police Officer Judith Kinniry said she could not forget the sight of Suliaman in the emergency room at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children on Feb. 2, 2010, his skin sloughing off from chemical burns, his body trembling. The boy died five days later.

On Wednesday, the two women led nine witnesses who described the lasting impact of the acts of Aaron Pace, 36, Suliaman's intellectually disabled babysitter, who pleaded guilty to killing him with a rubdown of caustic drain cleaner for "fussing in the tub."

Pace, remorseful but outwardly emotionless, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and was sentenced to 171/2 to 35 years in prison by Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson.

"I just want to say to the family that I'm sorry for what happened," Pace said. "I never meant this to happen and it hurts me more than anything that he's gone. I have to take responsibility for this."

Pace, 36, a large man with a shaved head and the build of a linebacker, said he understood what he was doing by pleading guilty though defense attorney Fred Goodman, who noted that Pace's IQ was between 57 and 68.

Pace's guilty plea and sentence were negotiated with the District Attorney's Office. The deal let Pace escape trial - and a possible life term - for first-degree murder but was also a few years shy of the statutory 20- to 40-year term for third-degree murder.

Bronson accepted the plea agreement and acknowledged its balance between Pace's severe limitations and what the judge called a "horrific case."

The hearing was emotionally explosive and witnesses described how the crime fractured the extended Kirkland and Pace families, for whom Pace - known in the Logan neighborhood as "Pete" - was a community babysitter who also played basketball with older children.

Several of Pace's relatives were ejected from court for swearing and threatening the Kirklands.

"Why are we going through this?" cried out Connie Kirkland, the dead child's great-grandmother. "Why are we being threatened?"

Suliaman's mother, Quintesha Kirkland, told Bronson she had suffered two losses: her son and her 13-year-old daughter, removed from her care by child-protection workers after Suliaman was killed.

"I hated him," Kirkland said, pointing to Pace. Kirkland told Bronson, "Everybody in that family got to grow up and live their lives. I have to visit my boy in Mount Moriah cemetery."

In his statement to police, Pace said he was bathing Suliaman when the boy started fussing in the tub.

"He was good for everyone but me," Pace told detectives, according to Assistant District Attorney Christine Wechsler.

Wechsler said Pace admitted sprinkling a bottle of Drano crystals on the washcloth and rubbing down the boy. As he was drying the infant, Pace told police, he noticed the boy's skin falling off.

Wechsler said Pace delayed calling an ambulance for the child and delayed treatment by not saying what happened when they got to the hospital.

"I didn't have insurance," Pace told detectives in explaining his hesitation.


Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or follow @joeslobo on Twitter.

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