A defendant charged in connection with the death of his girlfriend’s 19-month-old son has pleaded guilty to child neglect and attempted drug dealing.
The guilty pleas by Thomas W. Gorski, 31, came late Thursday during a rambling, 67-minute court hearing.
At one point during the proceedings, Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann admonished Gorski for “not wanting to answer the questions that are being asked of him. He wants to defer, deflect and minimize.”
Near the hearing’s conclusion, though, Gorski did answer a series of direct questions from Prosecutor Bill Nash.
Gorski acknowledged he should have noticed serious bruises and head injuries suffered by toddler Evan Jack McCue while the child was in his care on Nov. 25, 2012, and sought medical help.
The toddler was pronounced dead later that night at Columbus Regional Hospital.
In accepting Nash’s plea-bargain offer, Gorski pleaded guilty to a pair of Class B felonies, including a reduced charge of neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury. That carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison under Indiana law.
Gorski is not pleading guilty to inflicting any injuries on the young boy, only that he should have recognized the toddler’s life was in danger and taken action.
He also pleaded guilty to a separate Class B felony of attempted dealing in a narcotic drug. That also carries a maximum penalty of 20 years behind bars.
For most of Thursday’s hearing, it was unclear if Gorski would actually deliver guilty pleas or try to explain away the events of that late-November day in 2012.
“The mind tries to block out some things like that, you know,” Gorski answered when asked if he had noticed or should have noticed a series of bruises on Evan Jack McCue’s head and torso.
“You don’t try to think about stuff,” Gorski told the judge and prosecutor. “I’m not exactly sure about a whole bunch of it.”
The judge said a trial by jury could start in mid-February if Gorski preferred that option.
“Mr. Gorski, I’m not going to accept a plea of guilty from you if you are simply pleading guilty to escape going to trial on a more serious charge,” Heimann said an hour into the hearing. “Either you did this or you didn’t. If you believe you are not guilty of these crimes, then we can go to trial. Don’t feel coerced or pushed into this.”
Gorski’s plea deal, in effect, will erase several other charges lodged against him in the 14 months since the McCue boy died. The most serious of those was a Class A felony charge of neglect of a dependent resulting in death that could have resulted in a maximum 50-year prison sentence.
As things stand now, Gorski faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison for the two crimes he admitted committing. Formal sentencing is set for March 4.
The guilty plea came less than three weeks before Gorski was scheduled to go on trial Feb. 18 in connection with the boy’s death.
Evan was found not breathing and with head injuries in the rear of a mobile home that Gorski shared with the boy’s mother, 22-year-old Rachel McCue, in Candlelight Village trailer park.
The boy’s mother called 911 for help at 8:21 p.m. that day, police reports said.
Gorski said he and Rachel McCue had lived together for about two months at the time, although “she was thinking of moving out.”
On Friday, Nash declined to discuss his rationale for reducing the charges against Gorski and hammering out a plea agreement.
“All plea agreements from the state’s perspective are a calculation of possible risks and the possible rewards of proceeding to trial,” Nash said.
The prosecutor said court rules bar him from commenting further on the Gorski situation or a related pending case against Rachel McCue that is set for trial April 15. She faces two criminal charges in connection with her son’s death.
Sentences can vary
In Gorski’s case, Heimann could impose the maximum penalty for each Class B felony at next month’s sentencing and order him to serve the penalties one after the other for a total of 40 years.
Heimann could allow the sentences to run concurrently, thereby reducing the length of time Gorski would have to stay behind bars.
McCue faces two criminal charges: Class A felony neglect of a dependent resulting in death, with a possible sentence of
50 years in prison for her; and a Class C child neglect count that could lead to an additional two to eight years in prison.
If Gorski had gone on trial, McCue’s name was on the state’s official list as a potential witness who could have been called to testify by the prosecution.
Nash acknowledged Thursday’s hearing occurred with minimal public notice. Originally, it was supposed to take place at 10 a.m. Monday, but it was moved up based on a request by Gorski’s defense attorney, officials said.
Nash said he had about one hour’s notice to appear at the hearing.
Police label Gorski drug dealer
Other charges that won’t be pursued against Gorski as part of the plea deal with Nash include two separate Class C felony child-neglect charges involving a 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter that Gorski had from a former marriage; and another Class B felony drug charge.
Police investigators have said Gorski’s Facebook account had numerous postings the night of Nov. 24 into daylight hours of Nov. 25, suggesting he was trying to sell drugs to customers out of his home while watching 19-month-old Evan as the boy’s mother worked at a fast-food job.
At Thursday’s change-of-plea hearing, Gorski answered “yes” when asked by Nash if he was an alcoholic or drug abuser.
Gorski also said he hadn’t consumed any narcotics in the 24 hours before Evan died. He also said McCue had come home from her job at a fast-food restaurant early in the morning of Nov. 25 and was home most of the day.
Gorski testified he changed the toddler’s diapers several times but didn’t notice any serious injuries other than marks “on both sides of his forehead. Maybe if there was proper lighting or I was wearing my glasses. But I couldn’t see a majority of his body. I wasn’t looking for it (injuries) either,” he said under questioning.
An autopsy concluded the boy suffered multiple injuries across his body and head, including a fracture at the base of his skull, investigators said.
Police said Gorski was a frequent drug user and narcotics dealer who traded in everything from marijuana to Fentanyl, a powerful painkiller sometimes prescribed for cancer patients.