Christian Choate, the boy whose father allegedly locked him in a cage for the last year of his life before beating him to death, could finally be laid to rest soon, more than two years after his apparent murder.
Three months ago, Choate's body was found buried in a shallow concrete grave behind the Gary, Indiana mobile home park where his family once lived. On Tuesday, a Lake County judge ruled that his remains could finally be released and delivered to their final resting place, the Associated Press reports.
That ruling marks a loss for the defense attorneys representing Riley Choate, Christian's father, and Kimberly Kubina, his step-mother, both of whom are charged with his murder. Their lawyers had hoped for a second, independent autopsy to refute the prosecution's claims that Christian suffered years of abuse.
Judge Diane Boswell denied that request, saying the coroner's autopsy was complete and sufficient.
Though the full details of the autopsy aren't available -- Judge Boswell issued a gag order in the case, which means that there's limited public information about it -- it did confirm that Christian died of blunt force trauma which fractured his skull and caused internal bleeding.
That fits with the story that prosecutors have pieced together of the young Choate's last years and days. According to statements by his sister and others, Christian was kept locked in a three-foot-high dog cage for a year, only allowed out for infrequent meals and bathroom trips and beatings at his father's hand. During this time, he was "home-schooled" by his step-mother, who forced him to write on subjects like "Why do you want to play with your peter?", "Why do you still want to see your mom?" and "Why can't you let the past go?" He wrote about feeling unloved and wanting to die, according to Indiana Department of Child Services records.
The night before his death, Christian was allegedly beaten to the point of unconsciousness by his father Riley; his limp body was then locked back in the cage. The next morning, his sister found him dead.
Riley and Kimberly then dug a two-foot grave for Christian, and buried him with lime and concrete, placing a Bible on his chest.
As Judge Boswell released his remains for a proper burial yesterday, one question lingered: who would take them?
The Northwest Indiana Times explained the uncertainty: His father and stepmother are in prison. His mother, Aimee Estrada, gave up custody of the boy years ago when she left Riley Choate for being abusive. And the Department of Child Services has a rather inglorious record around the Choate case, having been called to the house multiple times while Christian was alive and not intervening in his abuse.
The Times lays out the options:
Shelia Kirby, funeral director for the Ridgelawn Funeral Home of Calumet Township where Estrada held a memorial service for Christian on May 20, said she is remaining flexible about planning for the body's internment or cremation.
"If Mom takes control of the body, her wishes are cremation. If somebody else takes control, we are here for whatever they want. There were tentative arrangements made back in May. We are going to reconvene with the family and finalize everything very soon," Kirby said.
Riley Choate and Kimberly Kubina have been charged with murder, battery, neglect of a dependent, confinement, obstruction of justice, moving a body from a death scene and failure to notify authorities of a dead body. They have both pleaded not guilty.