Family members grieving the death of a Columbus toddler unleashed 15 months’ worth of anger during this week’s sentencing of one man held responsible.
“You killed my sweet, smart, innocent grandson,” William “Chuck” McCue said to Thomas W. Gorski, referring to him as a “monster.”
Gorski, 31, was sentenced Tuesday by Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann to 28 years in prison.
The Columbus man, who was the boyfriend of the boy’s mother, pleaded guilty to Class B felony neglect of a dependent in the death of 19-month-old Evan Jack McCue. Gorski also pleaded guilty to attempted dealing in a narcotic drug, a Class B felony.
Gorski had faced the possibility of 20 years in prison for each of the two felony charges.
He is one of two people charged in the death case.
The boy’s mother, Rachel McCue, still faces charges of Class A felony neglect of a dependent resulting in death and Class C child neglect. Her pretrial conference is scheduled for March 31.
An autopsy concluded Evan suffered multiple injuries, including a fracture at the base of his skull, investigators said. A report from forensic pathologist Dr. Joyce Carter concluded the toddler could have sustained injuries to 17 different areas of his body only through an automobile accident or from an adult.
During the boy’s final
24 hours, police found evidence on Gorski’s Facebook page that the man was trying to sell drugs out of his home while he was supposed to be watching Evan. The boy’s mother was working at a fast-food job at the time.
Rachel McCue called 911 when, after returning home from work, she realized that the boy was not breathing in a bedroom of their Candlelight Village mobile home park residence.
On the witness stand, lead investigator Detective Alan Hayes played a Gorski interview recorded a short time after Evan was pronounced dead the evening of Nov. 25, 2012, at Columbus Regional Hospital.
Claiming Evan caused his own injuries by jumping out of a bathtub and leaping off a bed, Gorski repeatedly described the boy as withdrawn and staring off into space. He told police that Evan suffered from a developmental disease resembling autism.
However, a home video recorded less than two months before the child’s death was played in the courtroom, showing a happy, playful and energetic Evan, responding affectionately and intelligently to his grandmother, Robin McCue, as she gave him a bath.
Testimony revealed Evan’s grandparents filed nine complaints with Child Protective Services, alleging the boy was neglected or abused by Gorski between Sept. 7 and Nov. 25 of that year. All of the complaints were either dismissed or ruled as unsubstantiated.
“We had three grandparents who were all horrified something terrible might happen to their grandson under Mr. Gorski’s care,” Prosecutor Bill Nash told the court. “I don’t see how it could be a coincidence that 79 days after (the first report was filed) that the child would be dead from multiple, mysterious injuries.”
Gorski’s former mother-
in-law, Sue Geilker, testified how Gorski used intimidation and attempted arson in family disputes when he lived in the family’s converted garage with Geilker’s daughter, Laura, and their young son from late 2010 through early 2012.
Following a dispute over finances and living arrangements, Gorski initially refused to let his young son see his grandparents, Geilker said. After a later argument, Geilker found flammable products, including canisters of hair spray, placed next to an electric baseboard heater that had been turned up to the maximum setting.
When Gorski learned his in-laws were considering telling police about the attempted arson, he threatened to make accusations against his father-
in-law, Geilker said.
A short time later, the Geilkers returned home to find three notes containing obscenities in different areas of their house.
Gorski, who took the stand briefly during the sentencing hearing, said he left those letters “just to get a rise” out of his in-laws.
“I said a lot of stupid things,” Gorski admitted on the stand.
Gorski maintained that he never beat Evan, however.
“I never even spanked him once,” Gorski said. “If I had known how serious his injuries were, I would have had him at the hospital in a heartbeat.”
Taking suspect to task
Repeating what he said to Gorski about a month earlier on Jan. 30 when the guilty pleas were offered, Judge Heimann accused Gorski of failing to accept responsibility for the boy’s death.
He characterized Gorski’s guilty pleas to lesser charges as an attempt to avoid a lengthier prison sentence.
“Will I ever hear (Gorski) speak the truth? No!” Robin McCue said while testifying Tuesday. “That’s because he feeds on the knowledge of our pain and devastation.”
Heimann also noted Gorski’s silent but inappropriate reactions to witness testimony presented Tuesday.
“I’ve been watching you, and I’ve seen a smirk come across your face a number of times during this most serious of proceedings,” Heimann said.
However, the judge also ordered a deputy to collect signs from family members saying “Justice for Evan” after they were displayed in the courtroom.
“Justice will be served here today, but this is not a show. This is not (TV’s) ‘Judge Judy,’” Heimann told the family.
The courtroom was still as Robin McCue reminisced in a strong voice about the joy Evan had brought to her life and reflected on the future milestones neither she nor her late grandson will experience.
“My first and only grandson — my innocent, harmless, loving grandson — is not in my life,” Robin McCue said.
She was Evan’s guardian for 17 months before Rachel McCue took custody of the toddler a few months before his death.
History of drug abuse
The defense called Gorski’s two sisters to the stand as character witnesses for their brother.
Nicole and Michelle Gorski described Thomas Gorski as a sincere and caring human who increasingly turned to drugs after their mother, Diana Gorski, died of cancer in November 2011.
But Nash intervened, telling Nicole Gorski that her brother admitted using cocaine daily from age 22 until age 28, when his mother died.
Nash also asked if Nicole Gorski knew her brother used heroin from Evan’s death until May 2013, and she replied she did not know the severity of her brother’s drug habit.
After the sentencing, William McCue expressed a reserved degree of satisfaction.
“I would have liked to have seen him get the death sentence,” McCue said. “But I think justice was served under the circumstances.”