When 7-year-old Kaivion Eleby smiled, he did it with goofy gusto, baring his teeth and gums alike and charming anyone in his orbit.
That "Kaivion smile" was recalled in court Wednesday as family members requested a stiff sentence against his stepfather, Kyle McClain, for reckless decisions leading to the boy's death last March in a 200-foot fall in North Cheyenne Cañon Park.
Fourth Judicial District Senior Judge Gilbert Martinez imposed the maximum - ordering McClain to serve 12 years in prison for drinking vodka and using marijuana before leading Kaivion up a precarious rock outcropping off Gold Camp Road known as Point Sublime.
"That's not accidental. Those are reckless actions," said Martinez, who served as chief district judge until his retirement last year.
McClain, 28, pleaded guilty in December to manslaughter. He faced two to 12 years in prison under a plea bargain but also was eligible for probation or community supervision. Anything other than a prison sentence would depreciate the severity of his crime, the judge said.
"He said exactly what we felt," said Kaivion's mother, Wilma Eleby. "No, he didn't do it on purpose, but he still took Kaivion from us."
The tragedy came last St. Patrick's Day, March 17, after McClain picked up the boy from Bristol Elementary School in Colorado Springs and took him to the park alongside McClain's girlfriend and Kaivion's toddler half-sister.
McClain told authorities he had the toddler in his arms atop the overlook as Kaivion scrambled up the rocks toward him.
After the boy plummeted to his death, authorities say McClain admitted that he had been up until 4 a.m. the previous night, draining much of a 750 ml bottle of brandy, and that he had taken vodka shots and used marijuana prior to hiking along an exposed stretch of Gold Camp Road.
In requesting a probationary sentence, his attorney, Mark Hanchey, noted that McClain had no prior criminal history and had voluntarily enrolled in drug and alcohol treatment individual therapy.
"What happened that day ruined a lot of lives and ended the life of my son," McClain said in a soft-spoken apology. "I lost him for everybody in this courtroom." Kaivion's mother dismissed those words as too little, too late. In the 10 months since the boy's death, McClain had done little to take responsibility or express remorse, leading her to request that he spend time in prison. The two broke up four months before the boy's death, she said.
Kaivion was recalled as kind, upbeat and utterly dedicated to his young half-sister, whom he sought out after he woke up or came home from school.
"He loved her with an intensity I have never seen before," said an aunt, Kendra Cooper.
"Kaivion was the glue to our family," said another aunt, Anayah Cooper. "The moment he left, everything fell apart."
His grandfather, Darryn Cooper of San Diego, recalled his enthusiasm for superheroes, video games and fancy cars.
"No matter how many times I would call, he would always ask me, 'What kind of car do I drive?'" he said, spurring a rare moment of levity in court.
In a letter read in court, a teacher, Susan Lapioli, recalled how Kaivion befriended a special needs student in his class, showing other children how to be "patient, kind and protective."
Said Kendra Cooper: "I had always assumed he would be there to greet me with that goofy smile."