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Baby's death brings plea for law change

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, March 16, 2010, at 8:06 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, April 3, 2012, at 1:41 p.m.

Gerald McGee touched many lives in his seven months.

Loving hands held the Goddard baby until his last breath late Monday night. He died in a hospice unit at a Wichita hospital, about two months after he was admitted with severe head injuries.

His mother, Courtney McGee, 19, has been charged with aggravated battery. Prosecutors, who allege that McGee shook or injured her baby in a cruel way, have not announced whether they will seek amended charges because of the death.

McGee has pleaded not guilty. Her attorney, Linda Priest, said, "She's devastated by the loss of her son."

Scot Perry, Gerald's paternal grandfather, said he will lobby for a change in state law that he says could have saved Gerald's life.

On Dec. 28, Perry took Gerald to a Wichita police substation after seeing several bruises on the infant's face. The baby stayed in protective custody for a couple of days before being returned to his mother, investigators said. About three weeks after being sent back to his mother, he was hospitalized with the brain injuries.

The Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office did not agree with a plan by the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services for releasing the boy after he was in protective custody. Prosecutors also called for a follow-up investigation that SRS did not pursue, a district attorney's official has said.

Perry said he will seek a new law that would allow a child to be held longer than 72 hours in protective custody. It's not enough time to assess the risks to a child, he said. The protective custody period should last at least two weeks, maybe up to 30 days, he said.

On Tuesday, Gerald's relatives mostly talked about his impact on others' lives. His paternal grandmother, Terri Perry, recalled how strangers came to Gerald's hospital room because they were touched by what had happened to him. One was an emergency medical technician. "She was crying. Just wanted to come in and give us a hug," Terri Perry said.

Gerald's father, Dustin Perry, 19, who did not live with Gerald's mother, said it was important for people to try to comfort Gerald in his last days.

Gerald's grandmother sang to him, slept with him.

"There was very rarely a time when he was not being held by somebody," Dustin Perry said.

When he told his classmates at South High School about what had happened to Gerald, he said, "They were just as hurt and upset as I was about the whole thing. We all just rallied around."

Dustin's father, Scot Perry, said the young people learned "so many life lessons" while visiting Gerald at the hospital.

Courtney McGee's grandmother, Beverly Richardson, said her granddaughter "loved that child. Gerald was, in her eyes, a gift. And she is ... absolutely devastated."

"Of course, there's two sides to every story, and it's unfortunate we can't speak our side. Courtney was a good mother, and she loved her son. ... He was a sweet little boy, and he will be missed."

Scot Perry recalled the joy the baby brought.

"There was something about Gerald that was very, very special. He just lit your day up. You were who he wanted to see, no matter who it was. He never met a person he didn't smile at.

"He meant so much to me.

"Nothing that life's ever going to throw at me is going to be harder than this."

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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