DENVER, Colo. – The father of a 7-year-old boy whose body was found encased in concrete in a storage unit in 2018 was sentenced to 72 years in prison on Friday in his death.
Leland Pankey, 40, received the maximum sentence possible after pleading guilty in January to child abuse resulting in death and tampering with a deceased body in the death of Caden McWilliams.
Prosecutors dropped a murder charge under the deal, partly because authorities could not specify how the boy died. They also said the deal avoided holding a trial that would have featured gruesome evidence and re-traumatized Caden's relatives.
The sentencing hearing included a slide show of photos of Caden, a boy who family, classmates and teachers remembered as a caring boy who loved dinosaurs and tinkering, District Attorney Beth McCann said.
Pankey's wife, Elisha Pankey, previously pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death under a plea deal that required her cooperation with prosecutors. She faces between 16 and 32 years in prison when she is sentenced April 1.
Authorities found Caden's body in December 2018 while investigating allegations of domestic violence that Elisha Pankey made against her husband.
An autopsy found signs that the boy was severely emaciated and evidence of injuries to his head, chest and limbs. Some of the injuries showed signs of healing, but authorities were not able to determine how he died.
Court documents revealed that Elisha Pankey allegedly told investigators that her husband kept their son in a dog kennel "a few days" before he died in July 2018 at a hotel where the family had been living.
Authorities have not explained why the boy's last name differed from his parents.
McCann, who has called the case one of the most horrific ever handled by the district attorney's office, said in a statement that Caden's relatives are reminded of him when they see red-tailed hawks common in Colorado, which they see as representing the “elegance of Caden.”
“Caden loved to tinker and figure out how things worked and his family believes he would likely have been an engineer if he was given the chance to reach adulthood,” McCann said.