DENVER — The Denver man whose son was found encased in concrete in 2018 was sentenced to 72 years in prison in the case on Friday.
Leland Pankey, 40, pleaded guilty in January to a child abuse charge, in exchange for prosecutors dropping a murder charge against him in the death of 7-year-old Caden McWilliams. The 72-year sentence was the maximum punishment Pankey faced.
The body of McWilliams was found encased in concrete in a storage unit in the 5000 block of East Evans Avenue in Denver on Dec. 23, 2018.
McWilliams' mother, Elisha Pankey, also pleaded guilty in August to one count of child abuse resulting in death.
"Caden’s family members believe that his spirit lives on and watches over them," District Attorney Beth McCann said in a statement after Pankey was sentenced. "They have collectively decided that the red-tailed hawk represents the elegance of Caden and they will forever be reminded of him by the sight of a hawk. My hope is that the hawk becomes a symbol for all Denverites and that whenever we see a hawk soaring, we will all take a moment to think of Caden and in that moment remember to be kind to one another."
The Denver Office of the Medical Examiner ruled in a report last March that Caden had been malnourished and had cocaine metabolite and methamphetamine in his system. The boy also had numerous injuries to his head, torso and extremities, according to the autopsy. He may have suffered from asphyxia, dehydration or hyperthermia, but that couldn't be confirmed, the autopsy said.
In an interview with police last year, Elisha Pankey told investigators that Leland Pankey abused Caden while they were living in an extended-stay hotel, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. The couple and their two children had moved into the hotel in May 2018, and Leland Pankey watched the children while Elisha Pankey went to work, she told investigators.
Elisha Pankey said Caden died in July 2018 after his father kept him in a dog kennel, the affidavit said. A woman who had been in the Arapahoe County Jail with Elisha Pankey in December said Pankey told her that she believed her son suffocated in the dog kennel.
Leland Pankey kept Caden in the kennel overnight – with blankets on top of it – and the boy cried out that he was hot and thirsty, Elisha Pankey told her fellow inmate, according to the affidavit.
On the day Caden died, his mother and father bought Quikrete, trash bags and water, drove Caden's body to the storage unit on Evans Avenue, and mixed the concrete and poured it into the kennel, the affidavit said.
The boy's body wasn't discovered until December 2018, when officers responded to a domestic violence call involving the Pankeys.
Police learned that the couple had two children, and Elisha Pankey told officers that the children were with their father. When police contacted Leland Pankey, he said one child was in daycare, but he avoided answering questions about Caden, eventually telling officers the boy was with his mother, the affidavit said.
When officers interviewed a woman whose name was redacted in the affidavit, she told police that Leland Pankey had lost his son and that Pankey said her family could have their storage "because it had too many memories," the affidavit said.
Investigators obtained a search warrant for the Pankeys' storage unit and found Caden's remains inside.