Leviticus “Levi” Kuchta’s young life was cut short by a perfect storm of events that left him living with his sister, prosecutors said.
If their mother hadn’t been imprisoned for drugs, or the grandma could have cared for him while her husband was dying, or if he was in school instead of online learning in October 2020, it’s possible he would still be alive, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Maureen Koonce said.
The boy, 10, ended up living with his sister April (Kuchta) Wright, her wife Rachel Wright and April’s 3-year-old child in Merrillville.
Officials estimated he had been dead for several hours before police were called Oct. 12, 2020 to the home on Fillmore Court.
Levi, who had makeup covering puncture wounds on his face, was riddled with injuries in various degrees of infection and healing to his head, hands, arm, back, groin, leg and ankles, records said.
Two of the injuries — a dislocated jaw and spine — rendered him unable to walk or talk before his death, records said.
His sister April was sentenced to a maximum 35 years Thursday in a plea deal. Rachel Wright was sentenced to 25 years Friday, the most allowed in her own plea deal.
Rachel Wright, now 28, not only stood by while the boy was abused, but admitted in court documents she actively abused him, Koonce said Friday.
Her defense lawyer John Cantrell said Rachel regretted her role, but married a “monster”, i.e. April Kuchta, with a violent past who killed the boy.
During Rachel Wright’s three-hour sentencing hearing, prosecutors played her 911 call, which they said she allegedly made knowing the boy was already dead.
Lake County Deputy Coroner Jaime Arteaga appeared affected as she looked at graphic pictures of the boy, which were not shown in court, and detailed his numerous injuries.
He had clear signs of rigor mortis by the time she and a partner arrived, she testified. Prosecutors also played a jail call between April, her mother and Levi.
The Wrights had a family photo shoot one day before Levi was found dead. Merrillville Police Det. Matthew Vasel testified the photographer said only the women and younger child were in the pictures. They claimed Levi stayed in the car with a “headache”.
Cantrell called three witnesses — Rachel Wright’s stepfather, middle school friend and mother.
Her mother Diane Maples said she had seen the boy about a week before his death and hadn’t seen any of the injuries.
In cross-examination, Koonce showed her the numerous graphic pictures showing the boy’s abuse. Did you see these, the prosecutors asked of at least a half-dozen injuries. No, Maples responded each time.
Maples asked the judge for leniency, noting the younger child, now 5, needed Wright.
Would you have stood aside and done nothing if you saw Levi was abused, Cantrell asked.
“No!,” she responded, adding she would have talked to Rachel or done something to care for the boy’s injuries.
During a short recess after her testimony where she viewed the photos, Maples appeared to be crying. Koonce later accused Maples of lying on the stand to protect her daughter.
Child abuse cases were “historically very difficult to prove,” Koonce said. There were often no witnesses and the adults involved could point fingers at each other to save themselves, she said. The case against both women was “entirely circumstantial”.
She asked for a maximum 25 year sentence. Both women were just as culpable in the boy’s death, but his sister April had a worse criminal history, she said.
Cantrell countered that Rachel Wright didn’t get the same benefit from a typical couple charged in a child abuse case, because she was a woman who looked like a man, with a short haircut.
Part of her plea deal required her to cooperate with prosecutors, he said. When she flipped, April signed her own deal just over a month later.
Typically, in an abuse case, the husband gets a long sentence, the wife flips and she gets a significantly short sentence. That didn’t happen here, he said.
Years earlier, April Kuchta Wright was convicted at 17 of tying and sexually abusing a 16-year-old boy at knifepoint, records show.
She was the “monster”, he said. Rachel was “sensitive” and “motherly” who got caught up trying to fix a “broken” person, Cantrell said. April would not have just stood by if Rachel had killed her brother, he said.
Prosecutors couldn’t say for sure who actually killed the boy, he said. He asked for 20 years, 15 in the Indiana Department of Corrections and 5 in Lake County Community Corrections.
Earlier in the hearing, he said they broke up around the time the case started in 2020, he said. Koonce countered jail house calls played during their bail hearing showed they appeared to still be together.
The bail hearing was “a long time ago,” he said. “Things change.”
Rachel Wright apologized in court for “not doing the right thing”, which she said she would live with for the rest of her life.
Koonce retorted Cantrell’s portrayal, saying Rachel Wright admitted abusing the boy, not just failing to call the police. Rachel couldn’t be used to testify because she couldn’t tell the truth, the prosecutor said.
It was “déjà vu” since April put the blame on Rachel at her sentencing the day before, she said.
“You killed Levi,” she said, of Rachel, saying they were equally to blame.
The couple told police Levi had fallen off his dirt bike either Oct. 9 or 10 and had been claiming he had a headache and back pain, but he wanted to ride it again on Oct. 11, records said. After he wrecked the bike a second time, they decided against taking him to the doctor, records said, because they said Levi was afraid the doctor would make him go back to live with his grandmother.
A relative told police the grandmother had been trying to get Levi back from the couple before his death, but April Wright told her the boy had COVID-19, records said.
During a phone call to his mother in prison, Levi told her, “I want to go back to grandma’s house, and don’t tell them,” records said. When she asked what happened, he said Rachel Wright had grounded him from his PlayStation and repeated, “I want to go home.”
“His voice was very quiet, and he sounded scared,” court records said. “He told (his mother) that ‘Rachel won’t let me go home.’ He then whispered, ‘Please don’t tell them I told you.’”
In a separate call Oct. 9, April Wright said Levi “didn’t do his homework” and “got on her nerves,” court records said. Levi’s mother told her daughter that she could move Levi out if she couldn’t care for him.
Neighbors told police Child Protective Services had been to the residence many times over the past few years, records said.