Reporting Brad Edwards
(CBS) — The story stunned anyone who heard it. A young boy was tortured, caged, killed and buried for years before being discovered — all done by members of his own family. When the public learned the story of Christian Choate, the outrage was so intense, a gag order was issued.
CBS 2′s Brad Edwards began investigating this case earlier this year and has the first interview with the boy’s father, Riley Choate, who is in an Indiana prison.
“People think I’m a monster,” said Riley Choate serving 80 years in connection with his son’s death.
When asked whether he will be going to Heaven or Hell, Choate said, “Sometimes I have that little doubt.”
The answer to that question is a simple one for the man who put Choate away, Sheriff John Buncich.
“To me he’s an animal,” says Buncich.
The gruesome discovery of the boy buried took place in a Gary, Indiana, mobile home park where Christian lived with his father, step-mother and nine other kids all in a single-wide trailer. CBS 2 found folks there angry for the attention they are getting.
“What part of this don’t you understand?” yelled one man, while another screamed, “You better not be filming!”
It has been nearly six years since he was first chained in a dog cage. It has been two-and-a-half years since his body was unearthed, yet, there is still no headstone marking his life.
“There’s a lot,” said Riley Choate. “I just don’t even know where to start.”
Choate admits what happened to his son is a horror story.
“It was no life for no one,” said Choate.
Christian once lived with his mother and her boyfriend; a household with neglect allegations. So Riley Choate won custody in 2005, which was a full year after he was accused of beating Christian.
Choate says the punishments started after Christian, who was allegedly sexually abused by a different adult, attempted to sexually abuse a relative.
“He started playing the hump game,” said Choate.
Court records say Christian’s punishment included: starvation, beatings, no school, no play time and the cage.
A prosecutor on this case said: “Christian Choate sat in that cage, losing his mind, losing his strength and probably his humanity.”
Riley Choate only takes veiled responsibility.
“Did I fail him? Yes, I failed him,” said Choate, but then said, “I think I’m the only one who loved him.”
Police say Christian died after one final beating at dad’s hand. The family then made a decision.
“Nobody’s gonna (sic) miss him anyhow,” said Choate. “We’ll just bury him.”
And they were right.
“I put him in the hole. I put him in there. I covered him up,” said Choate.
Twenty-five months later, the family long moved away, Christian’s sister reported it.
“I have nightmares. I can see him in my sleep,” said Choate. “I see his face. I see him in that cage and I’m like man, man. It’s like he reaching up towards me saying you know help me.”
In Christian’s own words, in letters outlined in a Department of Child Services accounting, he wondered when, “someone, anyone, was going to check on him”. He “wanted to be liked by his family”. He was “isolated”, “hungry” and “wanted to die”.
“I say ‘Christian, I’m sorry, you know dad let you down, you know’,” said Choate. “I just hope he forgives me.”
Not good enough for Sheriff Buncich who says there would only be one type of true justice in this case: “No less than the death penalty.”
Riley Choate says he is the fall-guy for what he believes was the fault of many.
So, what’s changed? And what’s next?
“Why weren’t more people charged?” asked Edwards
“That’s a good question,” said Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, the only public officials to grant never-before seen access to the case file.
CBS 2’s investigation continues on Wednesday night at 10 p.m.