Dad of dead boy found in Denver storage unit pleads guilty

DENVER (AP) — The father of a 7-year-old boy whose body was found in a storage unit pleaded guilty in his death on Thursday under a plea deal with prosecutors.

Leland Pankey, 40, pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death and tampering with a deceased body in the death of Caden McWilliams but prosecutors dropped a murder charge. He will face between 16 to 72 years when he is sentenced Feb. 28.

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 but no sentencing date has been set for her yet.

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 police 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.

Police said investigators also spoke to a woman who said Elisha Pankey told her that she and her husband took Caden's body to the storage unit, where they poured concrete over him.

Authorities have not explained why the boy's last name differed from his parents.

In a statement, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said prosecutors agreed to the plea deal partly because there was a risk of going to trial on a murder charge because authorities could not specify how the boy died.

She said they also had to consider re-traumatizing Caden's other relatives as well as the jury and judge in trying what she called “one of the most horrific cases ever handled" by the district attorney's office.

“My office will argue for the maximum amount of prison time at sentencing,” she said.