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A Colorado man whose son was found encased in a block of concrete in a storage unit has been sentenced to more than 70 years behind bars.
Leland Pankey, 40, was sentenced on Friday to 72 years in prison for child abuse resulting in death and tampering with a deceased human body, according to a release issued last week by the Denver District Attorney’s Office. Pankey pleaded guilty to killing his 7-year-old son Caden McWilliams, whose remains were found encased in a block of cement inside a pet carrier that was located inside of a storage unit in December 2018.
The results of an autopsy showed that Caden's death was a homicide by undetermined means, with child maltreatment being described by the office as a significant factor.
Caden’s body was discovered by authorities who were investigating domestic abuse allegations made by Elisha Pankey, Leland's wife and Caden's mother, against her husband. NBC News reports. Caden — who was living with his parents in a hotel room at the time of his death, his mother later told police — was subjected to physical abuse by Pankey, who did not feed him and who kept him in a dog kennel a few days before his death, the outlet reports.
Elisha Pankey, 43, told police she was aware of her husband’s treatment of the child; while in custody for unrelated charges, she told another inmate that they kept Caden in a pet carrier overnight at times and ignored his complaints of being hot and thirsty. Court records obtained by NBC News state that Elisha Pankey said that they found Caden dead one morning and they believe that he suffocated. An autopsy later revealed that McWilliams was greatly emaciated prior to his death and he'd sustained injuries to his head, chest, and various limbs.
Prosecutors reached a plea deal with Leland Pankey in January 2020, the office said in a previous release. They agreed to drop the first-degree murder charge in exchange for the lesser charges of child abuse resulting in death and tampering with a deceased human body.
Explaining the decision, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann pointed to the unknown cause of death for Caden, remarking, “We had to take into account the risk of going to trial on the first-degree murder charges when the exact cause of death was not determined.”
Prosecutors were also wary of subjecting Caden’s loved ones — as well as a judge and jury — to a trial that would revisit the details of the case, which officials described as “one of the most horrific cases” they’d ever seen. Leland Pankey’s crimes, they said, were “intentional, deliberate, calculated, callous, self-serving, and depraved of any sense of humanity or human kindness.”
Elisha Pankey was charged in January 2019 with one count of child abuse resulting in death and one count of abuse of a corpse, the office previously said. She is scheduled to be sentenced on April 1, where, as the result of an earlier plea deal, she will be sentenced to between 16 and 32 years in prison, according to NBC News.
Elisha Pankey’s sister Sarah Cruz fondly remembered her nephew during Leland Pankey’s sentencing, 9News reports.
"I was in the room when Caden was born. I saw his sweet little face and was immediately smitten," she said. "As Caden grew, it became apparent that he had a very old soul. He was sweet and gentle and our entire family fell in love with him."
Cruz is now the guardian of Caden’s younger sister, who she described as a “miracle” and a “survivor.”
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