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Father sentenced to 80 years in death of son who was kept in cage

A judge in Indiana sentenced former Gary resident Riley Choate to 80 years in prison on Friday for neglect in the death of his son, a 13-year-old who had been regularly beaten, confined to a dog cage for two years, and fed a starvation diet.

The boy, Christian Choate, weighed less than 50 pounds when he died on April 4, 2009, of blunt force trauma to the head, the Chicago Tribune reported.

"The pain and the suffering, the degradation this baby went through for two years of his life is incomprehensible," Lake County Superior Court Judge Diane Boswell said, according to the report.

A sister of the victim — one of as many as 10 children who lived with Choate and his wife in a trailer in Gary, Ind. — said that on the day of his death Christian had refused to eat, enraging his father, who punched the boy several times with "full force" before throwing him back in the cage, said the Tribune, citing court records.

Choate and his wife, Kimberly Kubina, the boy’s stepmother, were accused of burying the boy on their property and moving the family to Kentucky shortly thereafter, telling others that Christian had run away.

Deputy Prosecutor Michael Woods described Choate's abuse of Christian as persistent, cruel and depraved, according to a report in the Northwest Indiana Times.

"Christian Choate sat in that cage, losing his mind, losing his strength and probably his humanity,” Woods said, while his father sat at the desk next to the cage playing games on his computer, according to the report.

"There were many other children in this house. They all saw Christian suffer. Those images haunt their sleep and drive them back into counseling," the prosecutor said.

The boy’s body, buried under concrete with a Bible and a cross in the Gary, Ind. mobile home park, was found in May 2011.

"We feel very strongly that the system failed this child, this young man, Christian Choate," Lake County Indiana Sheriff John Buncich said at a press conference Friday. "The system failed him and a lot of information slipped through the crack and we feel his life could have been saved if things had been dealt with in a different manner."

In December, Choate pleaded guilty to a Class A felony for neglect of a dependent causing death, and felonies for moving the boy’s body and depriving his daughter, Christina, of an education. He also admitted to being a habitual offender for previous felony theft convictions, the Times said. In doing so, he avoided a jury trial on charges of murder, battery, criminal confinement and obstruction of justice. In the plea deal, he was sentenced to 80 years instead of a possible 120 if convicted of the original charges.

Before the sentencing on Friday, Choate apologized for his actions, the Chicago Tribune reported: "All my actions will haunt me forever. I loved my son."

Kubina, who was also charged with child abuse, divorced Choate in 2011 and cooperated in his prosecution. As a result, she is due to be released from jail in February, the Tribune said.