WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man was sentenced Tuesday to nearly 49 years in prison in the fatal beating of his girlfriend’s toddler who died several months after state welfare officials received reports that he was being abused.
Lucas Diel, 26, of Wichita, pleaded guilty in May to second-degree murder in the May 2018 death of 2-year-old Anthony Bunn. Anthony died two days after he was found unresponsive in his Wichita home, KSNW-TV reports . The boy’s mother, Elizabeth Woolheater, also has been charged with murder.
At sentencing, Anthony’s grandfather, Zak Woolheater, described Diel as a “monster” and recalled the horror of sitting next to the dying toddler’s hospital bed.
“We couldn’t believe it was real life. Our lives have been very hard since that day,” Woolheater said.
Records show that in October 2017, the state Department for Children and Families was contacted after the toddler’s two grandmothers took Anthony to a Wichita emergency room with unexplained bruises on his head and back. The agency said previously that a medical exam didn’t reveal internal injuries or result in a finding of abuse.
Police detectives also investigated, but District Attorney Marc Bennett has said there wasn’t enough evidence at that time to file criminal charges.
Anthony’s maternal grandparents, Zak and Nancy Woolheater, argued in a court filing, which was part of their effort to deal with his end-of-life medical care, that the state didn’t follow procedures to find a permanent placement for Anthony. It said that after Anthony was abused, he was safe in their custody for 12 days but was eventually returned to his mother.
In the aftermath of his death, the head Kansas Department of Children and Families acknowledged that the agency was not fulfilling its mission and announced a number of personnel changes. The agency has been under fire after the deaths of several children, including a 3-year-old Wichita boy was found encased in concrete after his relatives repeatedly reported abuse.