Who killed Gerald McGee? Who inflicted the traumatic brain injury that caused Gerald, only 7 months old, to die last March? They remain unanswered questions in an ongoing investigation into what has been ruled a homicide, in a case where concerns have been raised about the child protection system.
Under a plea agreement, Gerald's 20-year-old mother, Courtney McGee, pleaded guilty Wednesday to aggravated endangering of her infant son.
The endangerment occurred during a period before Gerald suffered severe injuries and died, the prosecutor said.
Asked 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."
Gerald's paternal grandfather, Scot Perry, said he and his family want someone to be charged with Gerald's death.
"Otherwise, his death means nothing," Perry said after McGee's plea.
"The truth will come out someday," Perry said. "Somebody's going to get a guilty conscience and come forward."
In an interview in March, following his grandson's death, Perry told The Eagle that he would pursue a change in state law that he said could have saved Gerald's life.
On Dec. 28, 2009, Perry took Gerald to a Wichita police substation after he saw several bruises on the 5-month-old's face. Gerald was placed in protective custody for a couple of days, then was returned to McGee, investigators said. Three weeks after being placed back with his mother, Gerald was in the hospital with severe brain injuries.
The Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office has told The Eagle that it didn't agree with a plan by the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services for releasing Gerald after he was in protective custody. The prosecutors' office said it called for a follow-up investigation that SRS didn't pursue.
On Wednesday, Perry said he still is seeking a change in the law that would allow a child to be held longer than 72 hours in protective custody. The system needs more time — at least two weeks — to assess risks to a child, Perry said.
The guilty plea
McGee originally was charged with aggravated battery. She had given up her right to a trial by jury and faced a bench trial Wednesday, where a judge would decide her fate.
Instead, under the plea agreement, she pleaded guilty to an amended charge of aggravated endangering of a child.
She could face a sentence of probation to a maximum of 17 months in prison and a $100,000 fine. McGee, who remains free on bond, is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 12.
Gerald was 7 months old when he died in March in a hospice unit at a Wichita hospital, about two months after he was admitted with severe head injuries. He had been living in Goddard with McGee.
Bennett, the deputy district attorney, noted that the time frame for the endangering-a-child charge is between Dec. 24, 2009, and Jan. 18, 2010 — the day before Gerald suffered severe injuries on Jan. 19 and was taken to a hospital.
The charge she pleaded guilty to says she intentionally caused or permitted her son to be put in a situation where he could be injured or endangered.
An autopsy and other examination found that Gerald's death was a homicide caused by traumatic brain injury, a coroner's report said.
McGee called 911 at about 6:10 p.m. on Jan. 19 saying that Gerald was "vomiting, seizing and unresponsive," according to records referred to in the autopsy report. After an EMS crew took Gerald to a hospital, MRIs revealed bleeding and swelling in his brain and bleeding in his eyes.
Citing the autopsy, Bennett said after the guilty plea: "The child didn't die of accidental causes. Somebody killed this child."
Linda Priest, McGee's attorney said, "It's been horrible" for McGee. "She lost her baby. It's been devastating for her. She is a victim in this as well."
McGee's eyes welled with tears as she quietly answered questions from Judge Tony Powell about whether she understood her guilty plea.
Priest said of Gerald's paternal family: "They're hurt and angry, too. They want somebody to blame.
"It's hard for Courtney, too. She has not been able to give her side of the story."
Perry, the paternal grandfather, said: "I just want justice for Gerald. That's it. Whoever it is. It's not wanting to blame somebody. It's wanting to hold whoever did it accountable."