CASPER — Samuel Eugene McGehee shut his eyes in court Friday when his attorney played a recording of the police interrogation made the day his son died.
The recording revealed the then 38-year-old McGehee sobbing uncontrollably hours after his 9-month-old son died of asphyxiation. The courtroom, with every aisle full, remained silent as the chilling sound of a father, struggling to catch his breath in the wake of a child’s death, piped out of the courtroom’s speakers.
Authorities say McGehee wrapped the child’s head in a coat in an attempt to get him to take a nap on the afternoon of Nov. 15. His wife, after returning to their Casper home from a trip to Eastridge Mall, found the infant’s lifeless body. Police would find the boy’s vomit in the coat’s sleeve — indications, they said, of him struggling to catch his breath.
In June, McGehee pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for his role in the death. On Friday, Natrona County District Judge Scott Skavdahl sentenced him to 10 to 15 years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary.
For another charge McGehee pleaded guilty to — felony child abuse dating back to 2008 — he received an additional two to four years in prison. That charge came about after McGehee attempted to circumcise another one of his children at home. He used a fillet knife to carry out the procedure, and the boy, 3 months old at the time, has undergone extensive reconstructive surgeries as a result.
District Attorney Michael Blonigen asked for a 15- to 20-year sentence for the manslaughter charge and a three- to five-year sentence for the child abuse.
“The lives of two young boys were forever changed before the age of 1,” the prosecutor told the court. “One lost his life, one was mutilated by his father.”
Man a ‘tyrant’
Blonigen, in making the argument, described McGehee as a “tyrant more than a parent.”
“At the end of the day, he mutilated one child and caused the death of another.”
Defense attorney Rob Oldham, though, painted a different picture of McGehee.
“Mr. Blonigen’s rendition is just a gross and distorted version to make it look like murder,” he said, referencing the original charge of murder prosecutors placed on McGehee.
Oldham said no evidence pointed to his client trying to kill his child, saying, “It was an accident caused by bad judgment.”
The attorney said McGehee put the coat over the child’s head, in part to keep sunlight out of his eyes.
Turning to the circumcision, Oldham said McGehee and his wife attempted to carry out the procedure at home because they were struggling financially, had deep religious convictions and were facing growing pressure from family members.
Oldham asked for his client to be sentenced to one year in the Natrona County Detention Center and then be placed in Casper ReEntry Center where he could receive counseling.
“Our request is simple,” he said. “A year in jail, some CAC, and let this man go home.”
McGehee’s wife, weeping, asked the judge to allow her husband to provide for his family. In doing so, she described a man who loved her and their children to the point where he, trying to save money, went to work in threadbare clothing and with holes in his shoes.
“My husband was never abusive to our children,” she said. “I do not condone what happened to my son. And I know I will always grieve the loss of him. (But) it would not be advantageous to send him to prison for an extended amount of time.”
Given a chance to speak at the sentencing, McGehee, 39, read two letters he wrote his sons. He cried so hard while reading the letters that he was, at times, incoherent. One sentence heard clearly in the courtroom, from the letter he wrote to his deceased son, read, “I will always remember the sparkle in your eyes.”
Skavdahl, before announcing the prison sentence, spoke briefly, saying no one will ever know what was going through McGehee’s mind the days the two incidents occurred.
“The bottom line is, he was abusive to his son when he cut off his foreskin with a fillet knife,” the judge said. “(And) I have a child who lived 9 months and will never breathe another breath again.”
Contact William Browning at email@example.com or 307-266-0534.