A northwest Indiana man was charged with murder and neglect Tuesday in the death of his 13-year-old son, whom prosecutors said he kept locked in a dog cage for more than a year before he died.
Riley Choate, 39, of Hammond, also was charged with battery and criminal confinement in the April 2009 death of Christian Choate, whose apparent body was found last week in a shallow grave where Riley Choate told police he buried it with lime to make it decompose faster.
Lake County police released the charges just hours after Riley Choate pleaded not guilty to preliminary charges of 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. Officials say it could take months to confirm the body's identity through DNA testing.
The same charges were filed against the boy's apparent stepmother, who was identified in court documents as KImberly Leona Kubina, Kimberly Leona Kubina-Choate or Kimberly Leona Choate. She was 45. Lake County Police Deputy Commander Rob Arnold said it wasn't clear whether the pair were married, but Kubina told police the couple were married in 1999.
Both were being held without bond Tuesday in the Lake County Jail.
Speaking before police released the additional charges, defense attorney Randy Godshalk said there appeared to be "inconsistencies" in some witnesses' stories included in the affidavit. The prosecutor's office said Kubina did not have an attorney.
Police began investigating on May 1 after Christian's mother reported she had received a phone call from her teenage daughter telling her about the boy's death.
The girl told police that her father and stepmother regularly beat the boy and that Riley Choate kept him in the front bedroom of their trailer home in a folding dog cage secured with seven padlocks. She said that Riley Choate beat Christian severely in the head after he refused to eat on April 4, 2009.
An autopsy found the boy had sustained blunt force trauma to the body, internal bleeding and a skull fracture, court documents said. The boy's death was classified as a homicide with blunt force trauma.
The next day, when the girl _ who was assigned to look after the boy and assist in his punishment _ checked on him after he initially refused to eat again, she found him unresponsive.
"I put my finger underneath his nose and he was not breathing," Christina Choate said in an interview with The Times of Munster.
She said and her half-sister took Christian out of the cage and tried unsuccessfully to revive him with an air mattress pump.
"I kept thinking, `Oh my God, my brother is dead,'" she told The Times.
When Kubina came home, she ordered the girls to wrap the boy's body in a blanket and place him inside two plastic garbage bags and seal them with duct tape, then place it in a storage tote, a probable cause affidavit said. They then took the body to another trailer.
Riley Choate told Lake County police he moved his son's dead body to a shed, ripped out the floor, put a Bible on his chest, sprinkled lime on the body to aid decomposition and buried it in a shallow grave before covering it with concrete. Police recovered the body last Wednesday after Choate led them to the site.
"If I had it to do over, I'd have just called," Choate allegedly told police. "But I was freaking out."
Christina Choate said she finally broke her silence recently when she felt safe enough to tell a relative what had happened to Christian. She said her father moved her to Kentucky with her stepmother and half-siblings after Christian's death. She said she wasn't allowed to go to school, talk on the phone or live anything resembling the normal life of a teenage girl. About three weeks ago, Riley Choate moved back to Indiana without her, she said.
"I know my brother can get a proper burial now where people can go up to him," she told The Times. "And see where he's at and not have to be wondering if he's in some hole."