Crime & Courts

Mother’s boyfriend pleads guilty in 2-year-old Tony Bunn’s death

Lucas Diel, 26, pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder in the death of 2-year-old Anthony “Tony” Bunn.

Diel was Tony’s mother’s boyfriend. Elizabeth Woolheater, the child’s mother, has been charged with first-degree felony murder.

Tony was beaten to death allegedly for not eating a hotdog last May, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in his case. If the judge in Diel’s case follows the state’s sentencing guidelines, Diel could be sentenced to 586 months, or a little over 48 1/2 years, in prison.

His sentencing is set for June 25 in Sedgwick County District Court in the courtroom of Judge Jeffrey Syrios.

Woolheater, Tony’s mother, is still awaiting trial. Her next scheduled court appearance — a motion hearing — is May 20.

Diel and Woolheater gave conflicting stories to Wichita police investigators about what happened to Tony, and neither one explained the extreme state of abuse to his body, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in Sedgwick County District Court.

Diel denied having any physical contact with Tony on the morning of May 4, when the child was found unresponsive. He said he gave Tony hotdogs and then got into the shower. When he got out, he said, he went to check on Tony, who was face down on the floor and had blood on his face, the affidavit says.

When police first arrived, he told an officer that the child had fallen out of bed and got a nose bleed, the affidavit says.

He may have heard spanking sounds in Tony’s room when the boy’s mother was in the room, he later told investigators.

His explanation for how he got several small cuts to his right hand around the knuckle area didn’t match the facts investigators collected. He said he got the injuries while working at McDonald’s the week before, but McDonald’s said he hadn’t worked there in four months, according to the affidavit.

Woolheater told an officer at the scene that she heard a bang in Tony’s room while Diel was in the shower. In a later interview with a homicide detective, she said she and Diel checked on Tony after getting out of the shower.

Tony had hotdog pieces in his mouth but would not swallow it, Woolheater told the detective. So she “lost it” and hit Tony across the face with an open hand. Her boyfriend, Diel, held the food in the child’s mouth and she hit him again, she said, according to the affidavit.

Woolheater then went to the bathroom, she said, leaving Diel and Tony in the bedroom. She said she heard what sounded like Diel smacking her son twice and her son crying. Then she heard two or three more hits that sounded different from the first two smacks.

Then Diel yelled for help and sounded panicked, Woolheater said. When she went back into the bedroom, Tony was bleeding from his face, had a broken front tooth and a cut on his lip that looked like a tooth had gone through it. His eyes were swollen shut, she told the detective, according to the affidavit.

Those injuries were on top of others that showed a pattern of abuse. He had a broken arm that was healing. One side of his broken nose was healing, according to his autopsy. He had bruises on his face, back, abdomen and buttocks. One of his ribs was fractured.

On May 6, 2018, after two days in the hospital, Tony was pronounced dead.

Tony’s death is one of several recent child-abuse-related deaths in the Wichita area. Abuse of Tony had been reported to the state’s child welfare agency seven months before he died, but the agency missed several opportunities to intervene, the Eagle reported in the past.

Tony had the same Kansas Department for Children and Families social worker as Evan Brewer, who had a history of being abused and was found in encased in concrete in a south Wichita rental home a month before the social worker was assigned to Tony, DCF records show. That worker was no longer with the agency in July, DCF said at the time.

Lucas Diel, boyfriend of Elizabeth Woolheater, the mother of the murdered 2-year-old Tony Bunn, makes his first appearance in Sedgwick County Court Wednesday on suspicion of first-degree murder. Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle
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Chance Swaim won the Betty Gage Holland Award in 2018 for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and