An Effingham County Superior Court jury found Lester Casey Griffin, 24, guilty of felony murder and involuntary manslaughter charges Nov. 4 in the death of his live-in girlfriend's son, Dylan Helmey.
Chief Judge William E. Woodrum Jr. followed the state's recommendation Wednesday in handing down the sentence.
Holding up an autopsy photo of the toddler's bruised body, Assistant District Attorney Ben Edwards told the judge life without parole was the right sentence in this "heinous" case.
"This grown man senselessly took the life of this little boy. For whatever reason - at trial it was said for messing with his CDs - the defendant punched him with sufficient force that he almost pushed his heart to his back to where it exploded," Edwards said.
Griffin also was found guilty of cruelty to children for failing to seek medical attention for broken ribs and a black eye the child had received in the last weeks of his life.
Edwards said those injuries deserved a 20-year consecutive sentence.
Several of Griffin's sisters testified Wednesday to his compassion, asking the judge to allow their brother a chance at freedom and give a sentence including parole.
"I have six children and have left them with Casey," his sister Pamela Mikell said. "I've never known Casey to be agressive."
Mikell read a letter Griffin had written to her from jail, saying he had been studying his Bible and was thankful for her prayers.
"Wouldn't it be fair to say the multiple injuries he inflicted on Dylan are a better indicator of what kind of man he is?" Edwards asked.
"I couldn't say," Mikell answered.
Joan Washburn, who served as Dylan Helmey's foster mother beginning at 3 months of age and until he was returned to his mother, Ciara Helmey, asked Judge Woordrum to keep Griffin behind bars.
"Dylan doesn't have the choice of life with parole," Washburn said. "He doesn't have a life."
Washburn said Dylan came into her custody in a body cast as an infant.
At the time of Griffin's June 30, 2009, arrest for the boy's death, he was awaiting trial on cruelty to children charges stemming from an incident in October 2006. The child involved was Dylan Helmey.
Griffin's defense attorney, Public Defender Robert Persse, told the court Griffin was remorseful and showed no evidence of being a danger to society.
"This was a crime of passion and, ultimately, frustration," Persse said.
During Griffin's trial, Persse said the case wasn't murder, but a "dumb parent making a dumb decision."
Griffin admitted to investigators in a taped interview he had hit the child.
Judge Woodrum said because of the medical examiner's testimony during Griffin's trial of the child's injuries, taken together with what he suffered as an infant in the short time after he was returned to the couple, earned Griffin life in prison.
"(Dylan) never had a day on the face of this earth that a child should have," Woodrum said. "Mr. Griffin, you'll spend the rest of your time in the prison system."
Persse indicated this case was not yet over.
"We look forward to our appeal to the supreme court."