Stepfather charged in beating death of 3-year-old boy

The stepfather of a 3-year-old Villa Rica boy appeared in made his first appearance on the murder charge in Carroll County Court Monday.

The young boy had been in the hospital since the morning of Jan. 23 when police found him unresponsive at the at the Hickory Falls Apartments. Officials said the boy's injuries to his head and body were so severe that medics had to airlift him to an Atlanta hospital.

"It breaks your heart. This is a beautiful child who is defenseless against an adult. It breaks your heart," said Villa Rica Police Department Captain K.L. Shaddix

Joshua Richards, 21, was initially charged with cruelty to children, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, and possession of marijuana. Investigators believe Richards beat the child with a belt while the young child's mother slept in the other room.

A murder charge was added after the boy died on Sunday.

The 21-year-old started sobbing as the judge read the new charge in court Monday.

Richards' appointed defense lawyer Mac Pilgrim said his client confirmed the injuries the child died from were from a fall in the home.

"He denies any sort of abuse, he does admit to disciplining the child as he was in face living with the child for a number of months as he was in his custody," says Pilgrim.

Family members filled the courtroom. Many were crying before Richards even entered the room. Richards could be heard sobbing as he left the court and returned to his cell.

An autopsy was performed Monday. The defense lawyer said they should have more answers once they have that report.

Richards is the son of Carrollton Police Chief Joel Richards.

RELATED: Son of Carrollton police chief arrested on child abuse charges