CROWN POINT | With members of Christian Choate’s family looking on Friday, Lake County Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell sentenced the slain boy’s father, Riley Choate, to 80 years in prison.
Authorities unearthed the 13-year-old's severely malnourished, abused body from a shallow grave in a Gary mobile home park in May 2011, two years and one month after his death.
On Dec. 14, Riley Choate, 40, pleaded guilty to a Class A felony neglect of a dependent causing death, and two Class D felonies of moving a body from a death scene and depriving his daughter, Christina, of an education. He also admitted to being a habitual offender because of a previous auto theft conviction and a theft of service conviction in Kentucky.
In pleading guilty to those charges, Riley Choate avoided a jury trial. Charges of murder, battery, criminal confinement and obstruction of justice were dropped.
Boswell sentenced Riley Choate to 50 years for the Class A felony and three years each for the Class D felonies. Those sentences are to be served concurrently with the 50-year sentence. The additional 30 years was for being a habitual offender and was tacked on to the Class A felony.
To keep Riley Choate in prison for 80 years will cost the state more than $1.5 million, she said.
“Words just fail me,” Boswell said prior to sentencing. “A lot of people failed this baby.
“I can’t imagine a circumstance where a parent would allow, participate (in) and encourage this,” Boswell said to Riley Choate. “He trusted you to be the parent, and you failed him.”
Christina Choate, 18, was scheduled to read an impact statement but was too emotionally distraught to do so, said Bernard Eriks, of Gary, her maternal grandfather.
Throughout the sentencing hearing, Riley Choate showed no emotion and sat flipping through court documents as details of Christian Choate’s years of beatings, imprisonment in a small dog cage and starvation were again told in court.
Even defense lawyer Lemuel Stigler called the case against Choate, “a very, very bad case, a terrible set of circumstances.”
Deputy Prosecutor Michael Woods described how the boy was systemically beaten, kept in a dog cage next to Riley Choate’s desk in his parents’ bedroom and given little food.
“Christian Choate sat in that cage, losing his mind, losing his strength and probably his humanity,” Woods said, adding that Riley Choate sat at the desk next to the cage and played car racing games on his computer while his son slowly deteriorated.
“There were many other children in this house. They all saw Christian suffer. Those images haunt their sleep and drives them back into counseling,” the prosecuting attorney said.
Riley Choate read a statement before sentencing in which he said, “All my actions will haunt me forever, and I love my son.”
Eriks spoke for the family following the sentencing and called Riley Choate’s statement “just words he wrote down. He don’t care."
“We were hoping for life or the death penalty,” Eriks said. “I knew he was abusive to adults. He used his size to intimidate people. I didn’t think he’d hurt a child, especially his own son.”
Sheriff John Buncich said the system designed to protect children failed Christian Choate.
“He suffered as no human being should suffer,” Buncich said. “Hopefully, we’ll learn to cooperate. … The bureaucracy has to stop.”