LA PORTE, Ind. (WXIN) — An Indiana mother has joined the father of her child in pleading guilty in connection to the torture death of their 4-year-old son who was kept in a dark basement, bound in duct tape and starved and beaten by his parents.
Mary Yoder, 27, of La Porte was charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in death, a Level 1 felony, and neglect of a dependent, a Level 5 felony, along with two misdemeanor counts of cruelty to an animal and failure to make a report.
On Friday, the Times of Northwest Indiana reported that Yoder appeared before a judge in La Porte County and pleaded guilty to both felony counts. She faces up to 40 years in prison on her more serious charge.
The child’s father, Alan Morgan, pleaded guilty to murder and battery of a child on Nov. 29, 2022, along with resisting law enforcement. He was sentenced to 70 years in prison.
Court documents state that Morgan pleaded guilty “at the 11th hour” and only after realizing “there was absolutely no chance he could beat this case.” Morgan also originally fled from the scene of the crime before police arrived at his home. He led police on a 119 mph pursuit before ultimately being arrested by sheriff’s deputies in Knox.
According to court documents, La Porte County Sheriff’s Department deputies were called out to a home in Hamlet on Oct. 11, 2021, at 2:45 a.m. on report of an unconscious child. A deputy en route to the scene was advised that the child’s father, Alan Morgan, had reportedly battered the boy and likely fled the scene.
Court documents detail a cruel and gruesome discovery in the Hamlet home where multiple children lived with Yoder and Morgan. The home was reportedly “in disarray” with clothing, garbage, animal fecal matter and rotting food strewn about the residence. The air was rife with the pungent odor of urine and rotting food that “permeated the senses,” documents reveal.
Police said three children under the age of 7 lived in the unkempt home. A malnourished dog was discovered locked in a crate and the kitchen fridge bore a lock that prevented anyone from opening it.
Investigators soon discovered the living conditions were even worse for the 4-year-old victim, Judah Morgan, who was found dead in the Hamlet home when deputies arrived on scene. The boy was naked, covered in a blanket, cool to the touch and had bruises “all over his body.”
Kept in the dark
Court documents reveal that the 4-year-old boy’s short life was one of misery. Judah was often kept in the cold, dark basement where not a single light reportedly worked. The 4-year-old was routinely bound in duct tape, according to witnesses, and often kept naked in the dark cellar where he had only a “fuzzy blanket” and a soiled “infant style toilet.”
According to court documents, Yoder told police the boy was beaten by his father, Morgan, in the dank basement where he was punished for “not being potty trained.” The lights were purposely left off and the child was starved.
Court documents reveal police discovered security footage from the Hamlet home that showed Morgan repeatedly punching, kicking and strangling the 4-year-old while Yoder often looked on.
Yoder reportedly denied taking part in the physical abuse but admitted to keeping her son in the basement even when the child’s father was away. Yoder reportedly told deputies that she “could’ve put a stop to this but didn’t,” according to the investigator’s report.
A family member interviewed by investigators said they were at the Hamlet home the day before police were called for a birthday party for one of the other children. The family member noted Judah’s absence but was told by Morgan that the boy was at a friend’s house. In reality, the 4-year-old was in the basement.
Yoder told officers that the last time she saw her 4-year-old son was the day before the birthday party. She left the home to give birth at the hospital and knew the boy was in the basement — the place where “he normally is,” according to an interview with one of the victim’s siblings.
Security footage reportedly showed Morgan carrying up the boy’s lifeless body from the basement at 12:12 a.m. on Oct. 11, 2021. Court documents said this was after Morgan “extensively” beat the boy and left him alone in the basement for 19 hours. After 40 minutes, Morgan carried the boy’s lifeless body to the bedroom before finally calling 911.
It is unclear how long Judah was dead.
An autopsy revealed the child’s cause of death as “blunt force head trauma causing a massive subdural hematoma.” A doctor said some of Judah’s injuries were sustained “three to six months” before his death.
“(The child’s injuries) rank up there with one of the worst cases of blunt force trauma to the entire body that (the doctor) had ever seen (in his 28 year career),” court records note.
‘One of the worst offenders’
Yoder was originally set to go before a jury during a Sept. 25 trial. Like Morgan, however, she ended up changing her mind as moving to enter a plea deal as the trial date crept closer.
The NWI Times said Yoder became “overcome at times with emotion” while appearing before the judge on Friday. She once again confessed to being aware of the abuse inflicted upon young Judah by the boy’s father.
La Porte County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Alevizos set a hearing for Nov. 1 where he will decided whether or not to accept Yoder’s plea deal and carry out her sentencing.
Morgan attempted to appeal his own 70 year prison sentence last month believing the sentence extreme for one without a criminal history and arguing that his guilty plea should have brought him leniency.
The Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed and instead said Morgan was “fortunate” he wasn’t sentenced to even more prison time as “the record reveals that he is truly one of the worst offenders.”
The 70-year sentence was upheld.
Placed in harm’s way
The Indiana Court of Appeals’ findings revealed a potentially damning factor in 4-year-old Judah Morgan’s death.
According to the findings, Judah was removed from Morgan’s home when he was four months old due to reports of drug use and domestic violence underneath Morgan’s roof. The boy was placed in the care of a family member where he remained until six months prior to his death when the Indiana Department of Child Services determined that Judah must return to his mother and father’s care.
In the findings, it was noted by a doctor that young Judah was “very underweight” at the time of his death. The doctor estimated the boy had been malnourished “over at least the last six-month period.”
A lawsuit has since been filed that alleges the Indiana Department of Child Services put young Judah Morgan in harm’s way after placing him back into the care of Morgan and Yoder.