CROWN POINT | Eight other people lived in the trailer with Christian Choate when he was confined to a cage for more than a year before his death.
Six of them were juveniles and two were adults. Christina Choate, Christian's sister, can remember the hatred that was aimed at her brother from all the other family members living in the trailer.
"Everyone hated him," she said.
Lake County prosecutors have charged Riley Choate, 39, with murder, battery, two counts of neglect of a dependent and criminal confinement in the death of his 13-year-old son, who officials say was caged and constantly beaten by his family.
Choate's wife, Kimberly, 45, faces the same charges. Kimberly Choate also is known as Kimberly Kubina and Kimberly Kubina-Choate.
Several of the children have been taken into protective custody, according to the person who Christina Choate indicated is her guardian. That person also gave her permission to speak Tuesday with The Times.
The 10-page charging document depicts wide-ranging abuse of Riley Choate's biological son, Christian, for several years prior to the boy's death in April 2009.
The body believed to be that of Christian Choate was retrieved May 4 from a shallow grave in a mobile home park in the Black Oak section of Gary.
Positive identification may take weeks, but Riley Choate told police he moved the boy's body from the mobile home where he died to a shed where his body was sprinkled with lime to aid decomposition and covered with concrete.
Threat, abuse allegations
Charging documents state Christina, then 15, believed Christian was kept in a cage because their father didn't want the boy to tell their biological mother of the abuse.
Choate and his wife also withdrew Christian from school as the beatings turned more brutal, Christina said.
"They didn't want him telling the school (that he was getting hit) so they took him out," she said.
Christian is alleged to have run away frequently, attempting to make contact with his mother, Aimee Estrada, of Gary. Christina said she also longed to see her mother but never said anything out of fear of being struck or kicked by her father and his steel-toed boots.
"He made threats to me saying I wouldn't live until my 18th birthday," she said.
Christina Choate told police their father and stepmother regularly abused her brother beginning when the family, which included minor children of Kimberly Choate, lived in Merrillville.
While in Merrillville, Christian was kept locked in a basement, Christina told police.
Christina reports her brother as being in good health when he first joined the family in Merrillville.
After the family moved to a Black Oak mobile home park, Riley Choate kept the boy in a dog cage secured with seven locks. The boy lived in the cage every day for more than a year before his death, Christina said.
The cage was kept in a front bedroom Christian shared with his father while Kimberly slept on a living room couch and her children and Christina slept in a back bedroom.
Christina told authorities she was the sole person responsible for caring for Christian. Her duties included feeding him, taking him to the bathroom, forcing him to exercise and physically punishing him for failing to take orders.
She often was instructed to hit her brother, she said.
Sister speaks out
In an interview Tuesday with The Times, Christina said allegations outlined in the probable cause affidavit, such as the accusation she denied her brother food, were not true.
"I always fed him," she said. "If I didn't feed him, I would have got beat by my dad."
Two witnesses allege Christina hit her brother with a metal pole. The girl denies striking her brother with anything other than her hands. She said she would beat him if he got mouthy with her or if she was instructed to do so by her father or stepmother.
"I love my brother, don't get me wrong," she said. "But he had problems."
On a night Riley Choate went to work, the girl alleges her father and Kimberly told her to chain Christian to a bed frame leaning against a dresser. Christina admitted to chaining Christian's hands and feet to the 6-foot bed frame while striking him and choking him until he turned blue, according to the affidavit.
She later denied choking him.
She also recalled several of the other children in the home hitting her brother as well, she said Tuesday.
"They never liked him," she said of the other kids. "He was always an outsider."
Christina said that on April 4, 2009, Christian refused to eat, enraging his father, who punched him several times in the head before putting him back in the cage, according to police.
The next morning, while in the trailer with Kimberly and Kimberly's sister, Belinda Bradburn, and a cousin, Christina tried to feed Christian some cold cereal, she told authorities. He refused to eat so she slapped him across the face twice and put him back into the cage, eventually noticing he was not breathing, she said.
Kimberly Choate and Bradburn were called back from a visit to Longfellow Elementary School, one witness in the house said.
Christina contends Kimberly instructed her to wrap Christian in a yellow blanket and place him inside two garbage bags. The body then was placed in a gray tote and taken to a trailer belonging to Kimberly's grandmother. Riley and Kimberly are reported to have retrieved the tote, burying the boy's body in the woods behind another trailer.
Christina told authorities her father threatened to kill her and bury her with her brother if she told anyone, so for two years, she didn't.
Family and friends were told the boy had gone missing, but a witness told authorities she knew Christian didn't run away because his feet were numb from being chained up, his body was purple and he could barely stand.
"He moaned when he stood up," the witness said.
Christian didn't make much noise when he was beaten because he would be beaten worse if he did, the witness said.
He was not allowed to go to the bathroom and resorted to hiding excrement in walls and dryer vents, according to another witness in the house.
He was made to wear a diaper, the first witness said, and was not fed, growing very weak and pale. Slaps grew to punches and kicks in the head.
After a period when Kimberly tried to restore the boy to health, Christina again took control and would bathe him twice a week in ice cold water, prompting screams from Christian, the first witness said.
Christian was reported growing weaker and unable to walk around the time of his death. He was allowed out of the cage, to wear clothes and lay on an air bed in the back bedroom.
Not long afterward, Christian was reported having "ran away or went missing," a third witness said.
But even though Riley Choate had told everyone the boy had gone missing, all of the kids and her stepmother knew what had really happened, Christina said later.
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said Tuesday the charges against Riley and Kimberly Choate as filed speak for themselves.
"The investigation is ongoing," he said. "Other individuals are being looked at in terms of the handling of that child."
In a court appearance earlier Tuesday, Riley Choate pleaded not guilty to charges filed last week. Those charges involve altering the scene of a death, a felony, and failing to notify authorities of discovering a dead body and failing to report a dead body, both misdemeanors.
Following last week's initial hearing, Riley Choate had been assigned a public defender but on Tuesday morning was represented by a privately hired attorney, Randy Godshalk, of Hammond.