DENVER (AP) — A mother pleaded guilty Thursday to child abuse resulting in the death of her 7-year-old son whose body was found in a Denver storage unit, in a deal requiring her cooperation with prosecutors who have charged the boy's father with murder.
The plea agreement approved by a judge recommends that Elisha Pankey spend between 16 and 32 years in prison. Prosecutors said she will not be sentenced until after the trial of her husband, Leland Pankey.
Elisha Pankey, 43, did not speak during the brief court appearance aside from answering a judge's questions about her understanding of the agreement.
Previously released court documents revealed she began cooperating with investigators two months after she was charged. The mother told investigators in March that her husband physically abused Caden McWilliams and was not feeding the boy.
She also told police her husband kept their son in a dog kennel "a few days" before he died in mid-July at a hotel where the family had been living.
Authorities have not explained why the boy's last name differed from his parents.
Police also spoke with a witness, who said the mother told her the boy stayed in the kennel overnight despite his cries of being thirsty and hot. The woman said Pankey told her the boy was dead one morning and she believed he had suffocated.
The witness also told police that Pankey said she and her husband took Caden's body to the storage unit, where they poured concrete over him and wrapped the dog kennel in plastic trash bags.
Prosecutors dropped a charge of tampering with a human body as part of Elisha Pankey's plea agreement.
Her attorney, Tally Zuckerman, declined comment Thursday. A spokeswoman for Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, who was in the courtroom during Pankey's hearing, also declined comment.
Authorities did not find Caden's body until December while investigating allegations of domestic violence that 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 which showed signs of healing.
The boy last attended school in late May 2018. His mother withdrew him from enrollment in the Denver Public Schools that fall and said he would be home-schooled.
Prosecutors filed charges against Leland Pankey, 39, in May. Court records say he is represented by attorneys from the Colorado State public defender's office, which does not comment on ongoing cases.
Leland Pankey, who is serving a state prison sentence on unrelated charges, is due back in court on Sept. 13. He also is charged with child abuse resulting in death and tampering with a deceased human body.