More than two years after authorities combed a Southeast Austin field in search of Colton Turner, his mother’s boyfriend on Friday was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the role he played in the death of the 2-year-old boy.
Michael Turner, 31, pleaded guilty to injury to a child by reckless omission and two charges of tampering with evidence. Turner didn’t assault the boy, and it was he who led investigators to his body, factors his lawyers said had allowed prosecutors to consider the lesser felony offenses against him.
But outside the courtroom, Colton’s relatives sobbed and embraced, saying justice hasn’t been served. Turner will be eligible for parole in more than five years.
“I feel like Colton is the one that paid in this case,” said Diane Battles, the child’s great-aunt. “You can bet that we will start writing letters, and we will fight to keep him in there, so that he will serve 20 years. He needs to serve at least 20 years.”
Colton’s mother, Meagan Work, is awaiting trial after she pleaded not guilty last year to two counts of injury to a child. Police say she assaulted her son and buried him with Michael Turner’s help. Officers first spoke with Work, 22, about the case at a friend’s home Sept. 10, 2014, weeks after the boy had last been seen.
She told police a variety of stories about what happened, including that Colton was with a friend, that he had been kidnapped from a car and that she had given him away to a couple she met at a fast-food restaurant, according to arrest warrant affidavits. She later told authorities he died in a motel room, court records state.
Investigators have said Work and Turner waited until sundown to bury Colton in a shallow grave that Turner dug with a knife. They later moved his body to a more remote location, authorities say.
The case drew national attention over the state’s handling of child abuse reports, engendering a law meant to honor the slain boy by lending state trooper firepower to hunts for missing children in immediate danger.
But prosecutors, who declined comment Friday due to Work’s pending case, were dealt a big blow to the case last year when a judge tossed out much of the evidence against her, finding officers had unlawfully arrested and interrogated her.
Outside the courtroom Friday, Turner’s lawyer, Steve Brand, said that whether Turner will testify in Work’s trial would be up to the state of Texas. He gave no indication as to whether Turner wanted to take the stand, but he said his client has been willing to cooperate with authorities in the past.
“He is extremely remorseful,” Brand said. “Colton meant the world to him and continues to mean the world to him.”
In court, Kim Vidaure, Colton’s grandmother, took the stand Friday to address Turner after his sentence was issued. She wept as she told him that he ruined his life and that of his family. Colton’s family, she said, would never see him celebrate another birthday, put on a tuxedo for prom or walk on his graduation night.
“You will never understand that pain you have caused,” Vidaure said. “We had to plan a proper funeral for this innocent baby who never, never deserved to die this way.
“I hope you have as many sleepless nights as we do all because you are a selfish monster.”