Joe Hudson drifted into tears a few times as he recalled the son he lost four years ago. Hudson was in the middle of a custody dispute with Seth Ireland's mother when her boyfriend beat the boy into a coma one day before his tenth birthday.
"Did you love Seth Ireland?" attorney Warren Paboojian asked his client, Hudson.
"He was my gift from God and the joy of my life, the most precious little boy," Hudson said.
Hudson claims CPS had plenty of opportunities to step in and protect Seth from the danger. The agency received at least four reports of possible trouble before the deadly beating. But the reports were sometimes confusing.
Seth even blamed his father for some noticeable injuries -- bruises his mother later admitted came from Lebaron Vaughn, not Joe Hudson.
A CPS agent talked to Hudson after that report, but he says that's the last time he heard from her -- despite later abuse reports from a neighbor and a school principal, and another inquiry from a sheriff's deputy when Vaughn tried to dump Seth and his half-brother at the Fresno County jail.
"I never met her until my son was already in the hospital in a coma on life support," Hudson said.
Hudson says he last saw his son on Dec. 20, 2008 -- nine days before Vaughn punched and kicked the boy to death.
Rena Ireland had been hiding Seth from Hudson in violation of a custody agreement, but Hudson found out she left Seth at his grandmother's with no money, no food, and just the clothes on his back. He grabbed his son, but got a call from police a couple hours later, telling him to return Seth. He did, but not before an officer questioned Seth about his situation.
"One of the questions was whether he'd rather be with me or the mother and he told the officer he wanted to be with me," Hudson said.
A jury is now just a couple days away from having to decide whether CPS should've known that was the right answer all along.