DENVER (CBS4) – Forty-year-old Leland Pankey was handed the maximum sentence allowed by a judge Friday for his role in the death of his 7-year-old son, Caden McWilliams. Pankey and 42-year-old Elisha Pankey, living in Aurora, one night confined the 7-year-old to a blanket-covered animal carrier. They awoke to find him dead, then allegedly took his body to a Denver storage unit, wrapped the carrier in industrial strength plastic bags, and poured an instant concrete mixture into the carrier and bag.
Police investigators found McWilliams’s body at the unit in January of 2018. His concrete-encased, decomposed body remained in the animal carrier in which he passed away.
A coroner’s report described McWilliams as severely emaciated. He also had injuries about his head and body, and a measure of methamphetamine in his blood. The coroner estimated McWilliams had died in May of 2018.
Friday Denver District Court Judge A. Bruce Jones sentenced Leland Pankey, the boy’s biological father, to 72 years in prison.
In a press release, the Denver District Attorney’s Office wrote, “The sentence reflects that Pankey’s offenses were intentional, deliberate, calculated, callous, self-serving and depraved of any sense of humanity or human kindness.”
Pankey agreed last month to a plea agreement with Denver prosecutors, pleading guilty to child abuse resulting in death and tampering with a deceased human body.
At that time, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann defended her decision to drop Leland Pankey’s murder charges: “This agreement provides justice for Caden while ensuring that Mr. Pankey will serve a significant amount of time behind bars. This is one of the most horrific cases ever handled by the Denver DA’s Office and we were acutely concerned about re-traumatizing Caden’s family as well as the jury, judge and everyone else involved should this case proceed to trial.”
After Friday’s sentencing, McCann rekindled the family’s memories of a “sweet and gentle” boy.
“Caden’s family members believe that his spirit lives on and watches over them,” McCann stated. “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.”
News of the boy’s death, and the circumstances of it, reverberated through the community where he lived, played, and went to school.
“When I saw the news, I balled my fist, and I cried. Oh my God, how can you do this? How dare you hurt that little boy?” said Tina Wright, Pankey’s former landlord. “He was so beautiful. So, innocent.”
Elisha Pankey told investigators of abuses at the hands of Leland Pankey. This included time spent inside the same animal carrier in which McWilliams eventually died in.
Elisha Pankey pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death in October 2019 and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 1.