CROWN POINT | The stepmother of a boy whose body was discovered in 2011 in a shallow grave in Gary was sentenced Tuesday to 35 years in prison.
Kimberly Kubina, 47, pleaded guilty to felony neglect of a dependent in May in the abuse that led to the death of Christian Choate.
The 35-year sentence was the most Lake Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell could impose because of a plea agreement.
Christian Choate's remains were recovered from a shallow grave in a Black Oak mobile home park in May 2011, about two years after his death. He was 13 when he died, according to testimony.
Kubina and her then-husband, Riley Choate, were initially charged with murder and other felonies after the boy's body was discovered following a tip to police.
Choate, 40, was sentenced to 80 years in prison in January after pleading guilty to neglect of a dependent, altering the scene of a death and habitual offender enhancement.
Speaking in court on Tuesday, Kubina sought to explain her actions and distance herself from Riley Choate's abuse of his children, citing her own beatings, isolation and domination by Choate.
Choate had told her to care for her children her way, and he would take care of his his way, Kubina said.
Kubina admitted people must wonder why she didn't just leave.
"The answer is simple," Kubina said, describing her fears of Choate's finding her and of always looking over her shoulder.
Kubina, now a grandmother, said she was not asking not to be punished but for enough leniency to be able to return to mother her children.
"I have committed a great sin," she said.
Riley Choate admitted to beating and punishing Christian, including keeping the boy in a dog cage and watching him become badly malnourished.
During Tuesday's sentencing for Kubina, Lake County Sheriff's Department Detective Jeff Minchuk displayed the 37-by-24-by-36-inch dog cage. He testified the boy had been beaten in front of the cage causing his body to strike the cage.
Lead detective on the case Michelle Dvorscak also testifed about jail telephone calls by Kubina in which Kubina referred to Christian as "that boy," "a bastard" and "a predator."
Kubina was quoted in the calls as saying Christian and his sister, Christina, had become "invisible" to her and she did not care if "that kid crawled up and died as long as he was out of her life."
Dvorscak said witnesses also told police of Riley Choate's history of violence and their belief Choate may have been guilty of murder in a separate incident.
Earlier during the hearing, the father of one of Kubina's nieces testified that Kubina was a loving mother who was chronically abused by Riley Choate.
Defense attorney Linda Kollintzas also cited Kubina's physical and emotional abuse by Riley Choate, Christian's alleged behavioral problems and the complexity of extended family dynamics, which included housing six children in a two-bedroom mobile home.
Kollintzas said Kubina has sought counseling to learn how she had let the horror develop.
"I know she is punishing herself every day," Kollintzas said in seeking a more lenient sentence.
However, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michael Woods disputed Kubina felt any remorse.
Woods questioned Kubina's reportedly being "shut down" with a child in a dog cage 15 feet away from her. He derailed notions Kubina was showing maternal instincts by taking in her sister's children.
Instead, Woods said, the other children were being given a message.
"Let's terrorize them by proxy," Woods said.
No matter what Christian Choate did, he not deserve his fate, Woods said.
Boswell handed Kubina the maximum sentence, citing the crime happened while she was in a position of trust, in the presence of other children and committed over a long period.