Sterling parents plead guilty to felony child abuse charges in death of Levi Welton who died in fire

Judge rejects subpoena for 7NEWS documents

STERLING, Colo. - The parents of a 2-year-old boy who died in a fire in the family's home in January have pleaded guilty to felony child abuse charges.

Christopher and Julia Welton, parents to Levi Welton, will be sentenced within 90 days, and could receive a sentence ranging from probation to jail time or community corrections. They pleaded guilty the week of June 16 but CALL7 Investigators learned of that plea on Tuesday.

The CALL7 Investigators found Levi and his brother both tested positive late last year for THC, the potent drug in marijuana, which their mother smokes for a medical condition.

The brothers were removed from their parents' care late in 2013, but the Logan County Department of Human Services returned them to the home shortly before the fire in January -- despite learning of a second positive drug test only hours before the fire.

John Ferrugia's investigation also revealed that case workers had additional safety concerns about the Weltons' home -- including a risk of fire and access to "white pills" by the children -- yet still did not remove Levi and his brother from the home.

Case workers had "observed Julia Welton smoking a cigarette which she brushed along the wall, causing red ash to fall on the carpet of the kitchen. She did not notice it until the caseworker pointed them out to her and asked her to take care of them due to the fire hazard," a report said. A cigarette butt on the floor was also noted.

The deadly fire started on Jan. 14 in Levi's bedroom among blankets near a window. His parents and others were in the next room, not supervising their son. All the adults as well as Levi’s brother escaped from the house, but Levi's body was found in an open closet in the fire-ravaged bedroom.

Defense attorneys in the case subpoenaed 7NEWS to turn over documents obtained during the CALL7 investigation into Levi's death. Christopher and Julia Welton were concerned that the news stories would hurt their case. 7NEWS was taking legal action to block the release of any information to the court when the Weltons pleaded guilty and the judge quashed the subpoena.

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