After spending almost a year in jail, the mother of a 19-month-old toddler who died in the care of her live-in boyfriend will not serve any more time behind bars.
On Thursday afternoon, Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann suspended an eight-year prison sentence handed down to Rachel McCue, 22.
On March 14, McCue entered a guilty plea to neglect of a dependent as a Class C felony in the Nov. 25, 2012, death of her son, Evan Jack McCue.
An autopsy concluded the boy suffered multiple injuries, including a skull fracture.
A week before McCue entered her plea, her former boyfriend, Thomas Gorski, 31, was sentenced to 28 years in prison for his part in the boy’s death.
As part of a plea bargain agreement, Gorski pleaded guilty to neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury, as well as attempted dealing in a narcotic drug, both Class B felonies.
Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash said one reason he wanted a suspended sentence for McCue was to spare further hurt for her parents.
Nash said they are devastated by their grandson’s death.
“How much more do you expect them to suffer, and what will a jail sentence accomplish?” Nash asked after the sentencing hearing.
Nash also said he had never seen a defendant more willing to accept responsibility for wrongdoing and express genuine remorse than McCue.
“I was the mother, and I should have protected my child, but I didn’t,” a tearful McCue said while testifying on her own behalf Thursday.
“I didn’t see what type of person Tom Gorski was. But I should have.”
When sentencing McCue, Heimann told her she would not have an easy life ahead.
“But I believe you have the character, with the help of others, to come through this, have a life and serve others,” Heimann said. “If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have agreed to this (suspended sentence).”
Nash said it wasn’t clear to him until late in the investigation that McCue neither physically hurt her son nor had reason to believe Gorski was abusing the child while she was at work.
But Nash said he didn’t dismiss the charges because she knowingly brought her son to live with a drug dealer, took drugs herself and did not check on the toddler’s welfare for up to 12 hours before the boy was discovered unresponsive.
While on the stand, McCue said she first met Gorski when she was a 14-year-old freshman at Columbus East High School and a friend took her to the 23-year-old Gorski’s home, where he provided both girls with cigarettes and marijuana during their lunch period.
McCue testified she regularly used opiates, methamphetamine and marijuana from the time she met Gorski until she was jailed last summer.
Although friction with her parents prompted her to spend some weekends with Gorski after they met, McCue said a romantic relationship did not begin until the spring of 2012.
But shortly after moving into Gorski’s mobile home in early September with her son, he quit his job while she continued working overnight shifts at a fast-food restaurant.
Over the next 78 days, Gorski tried to control her life by monitoring her financial records, purchases and media use, McCue said. Gorski didn’t allow her to contact family and friends and made several threats to keep her under his control, she testified.
Gorski threatened to kill the toddler’s biological father if she did not obey him, McCue testified.
After coming home from a 10-hour shift the morning of her son’s death, she said Gorski ordered her not to go to the back bedroom to see her son because the child had been up most of the night and had just fallen asleep.
Throughout the day, when McCue periodically woke up from sleeping on a living room couch, she would ask if the boy’s various needs, such as feeding and diaper changes, had been taken care of, she testified. Gorski kept saying yes, McCue said.
It wasn’t until 8 that night — two hours before she was due back at work — that she discovered her son unresponsive in the back bedroom.
McCue said the only injuries she had noticed when she last saw Evan one day earlier was a bite mark caused by another child and a bruise to the forehead.
Her testimony was supported by Scott Hundley, who testified as the woman’s mental health therapist for the past eight years.
McCue is still struggling with both trauma and grief, as well as issues with men, Hundley said. As part of her sentence, Heimann ordered that she enroll in a program called Beyond Trauma.
During the sentencing, Nash and defense attorney Christopher Clerc asked the judge to consider how to keep McCue, a longtime drug user with a diagnosed severe addiction, from returning to substance abuse after she was released.
The answer was a last-minute plea agreement, where she accepted the maximum sentence possible despite having no previous criminal history.
By accepting the agreement, she will remain under direct court supervision for the next five years to provide long-term assistance in keeping her drug-free.
Without that agreement, it was likely she could have been free within two years without any support to help her battle her addictions, Nash said.