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Defense attorney points finger in Goddard child abuse case

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011, at 9:05 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, April 3, 2012, at 1:41 p.m.

WICHITA — Even with the sentencing of his mother today, the question of who killed Gerald McGee remains unresolved.

No one has been charged with killing the 7-month-old even though his death last March has been ruled a homicide caused by a traumatic brain injury.

But as Gerald's mother stood in court today awaiting her sentence after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of aggravated endangerment of her son, her attorney in effect pointed a finger at someone else.

"We welcome a further investigation ... because the true perpetrator does need to be brought to justice," said Mark Orr, a deputy public defender representing Gerald's mother, Courtney McGee.

Sedgwick County District Judge Patrick Walters sentenced McGee to seven months in prison but placed her on a one-year probation.

Walters also gave her a warning.

Before the judge announced the sentence, Orr, in defending his client, articulated a timeline leading up to bruises that Gerald suffered in December 2009. At the time, McGee was 19 and in a relationship with a man — not Gerald's father — who was mentally and physically abusive to her, Orr said.

Orr referred to the man as a "gangbanger" — a member of the Folk gang.

Orr described McGee's situation this way: that "she was very afraid" of the man, that she couldn't explain bruises on her infant son's face, that the man told her Gerald rolled over and hit his face on his crib, that Gerald's father's family became concerned over the bruises and contacted police, and that after an investigation, authorities couldn't conclusively find that Gerald had been abused.

And there was more, Orr said: After an SRS investigation, McGee became suspicious of the man because he had abused her. She wouldn't let the man be alone with Gerald. McGee was trying to get away from the man. (She was staying with him in Goddard.) She was just days away from moving in with her mother.

But, according to Orr, she got sick with flu and became bed-ridden. During this time, Gerald woke up fussy, and when the man said he would pick up Gerald, she told him to bring Gerald directly to her.

Something happened to Gerald between the nursery and her room, Orr said.

The man threatened her, saying if she told her "story," he or his "Folk buddies" would shoot her, Orr said, adding that his client knew she should have left the man but was ill and fearful.

After hearing Orr's version, Walters asked McGee if she wanted to speak.

As she stood by her lawyer, through tears, she uttered one sentence —"I didn't do it."

In November, after McGee pleaded guilty to the endangerment charge, the prosecutor said that the endangerment of the child occurred during a period before Gerald suffered severe injuries and died.

Asked in November why no one has been charged with the boy's death, Deputy District Attorney Marc Bennett said: "The homicide of this child remains under investigation. . . . No suspects have been eliminated at this point."

In court today, the judge silently read a letter from the family of Gerald's father, Dustin Perry. Perry and Gerald's paternal grandfather, Scot Perry sat in the courtroom.

The letter, a copy of which was given to The Eagle by the Perry family, is written in the voice of the grandfather: "I am here today to ask the court to impose the maximum sentence possible on Courtney McGee. Because of her actions, inactions, my beautiful, innocent grandson is dead.

"Gerald was a bright, shining light in our family. Simply by entering our lives, he helped bring our family closer together because who could possibly care about petty things when he smiled that smile ...

"Courtney was fully aware of the home situation in which she kept Gerald. She was his mother. She was supposed to protect him. ... She could have kept him safe by taking him some where else or leaving him with us ... . "

Partly because of her lack of a criminal history, McGee faced a maximum of seven months in prison, and a plea agreement recommended probation. Based on sentencing guidelines, she was expected to receive probation. Prosecutors had originally charged McGee with aggravated battery and felony child abuse — crimes that would have carried a longer sentence.

Before Walters announced the sentence and granted her probation, he told McGee that she "had a duty to protect that child above all else," but that she seemed to put herself and her child "in a very dangerous situation." She put her "desire to protect herself" over her child's safety, he said.

With the death of a defenseless infant, the sentence "doesn't seem adequate," Walters said.

Walters told McGee she would have to follow a number of requirements, including that she get a mental-health evaluation and follow its recommendations, take a parenting class (she does not have other children) and get a job or seek employment.

And he gave her a warning: "You stay away from gangbangers. You stay away from people who harm other people. ...

"If you don't comply with my probation, I'm going to send you to prison."

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

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