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Marcia Dooley is seen in Jan. 16, 2002, file photo.Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail

A Toronto woman convicted of killing her seven-year-old stepson in 1998 was denied day parole Wednesday after officials found she did not have a clear enough plan to manage her risk in the community.

Marcia Dooley sought to be released to a halfway house roughly 10 months after she was granted four unescorted, five-day absences from prison to help prepare her for life in the community.

However, the parole board noted Wednesday that she was not able to complete those stints away from the minimum-security prison due to complications related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a hearing that took place through video and teleconference, the panel said the unescorted absences were an important step in Dooley’s eventual reintegration, noting she does not have community support for day parole at this time.

The panel concluded that while Dooley is “on the right path,” she needs to be able to engage with the community through unescorted absences before moving on to day parole.

It also found Dooley’s plan for day parole, which involved looking for work and attending counselling, was “very undefined and unclear” and “not substantial enough” to manage her risk in the community.

“We believe that you regret the offence you committed and have genuine remorse for the harm you caused,” board member Kevin Corcoran said.

But he noted Dooley at times appeared too focused on coming across as calm and poised during the hearing to give truly insightful answers into her thought processes and behaviours.

During the hearing, Dooley, now 50, said she has learned to better manage her emotions during her 19 years behind bars, and is ready to “go back in the community and be a better person.”

Dooley and her husband were convicted in 2002 of second-degree murder for the death of his son, Randal.

They were both sentenced to life in prison, with Dooley able to apply for parole after 18 years and her husband after 13.

Dooley admitted Wednesday to having long been in denial about her role in Randal’s death, but said she came to terms with her actions through the programs she participated in and has turned to spirituality and volunteering in an effort to make amends.

She said she began hitting Randal, slapping and kicking him and at times striking him with a bungee cord, after his father took off to deal drugs in the United States, leaving her alone to deal with two young boys and her own early pregnancy.

Trying to balance work, school and the children proved to be too much and she took her anger out on Randal, who appeared to not be adapting as well to his new life in Toronto after arriving in the city from Jamaica, she said.

“I was frustrated and overwhelmed at the time,” she said. The abuse continued, however, after her husband returned.

Dooley could be heard crying as the board described Randal’s injuries at the time of his death.

During the couple’s criminal trial, court heard that Randal was brutally abused for months after he and his brother came from Jamaica to live with their father and stepmother in Toronto in 1997.

Randal weighed only 41 pounds when he died in 1998, and had 13 fractured ribs, a lacerated liver, multiple brain injuries and bruises all over his body, court heard.

In the end, the court found Dooley was the one who fatally struck Randal and carried out most of the abuse, while her husband allowed it to happen.

The couple tried to challenge their conviction, but the appeal was dismissed in 2009.

Dooley told the hearing Wednesday that the pair has since divorced and has not spoken in the years after.

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