The following article contains information that may be unsuitable for some readers. Many of the events depicted in the following story happened less than 50 miles from the town of Crested Butte. The father of the victim is now being held at the Gunnison County Jail without bond. In May, he was charged with first-degree murder and child abuse causing the death of a child. Then, September 7, a third charge of child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury was added. A hearing was set this week for October 8.
At 9 a.m. on April 17, Edward Cox burst through the front door of his neighbor’s house near Somerset, holding his son Christian’s lifeless body. The women inside called 911 and one started to help perform CPR. As Cox pulled back the boy’s pajamas, she could see bruises on the infant’s chest and ribs. His eyes were only half open, he had no pulse and he wasn’t breathing.
According to an affidavit from the Gunnison County Sheriff’s office, after the woman noticed the bruises, Cox, who turned 30 in May, told her that the 13-month-old boy had gotten the bruises while staying with his mother. The two were separated. Then he ran back home, holding his son.
When the police arrived, Cox was trying to resuscitate the child on the floor inside his house. Gunnison County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Smith couldn’t find a pulse or detect a breath. EMTs arrived, but the result didn’t change. Christian was flown by helicopter to Delta County Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
On April 20, a death announcement was published in the Delta County Independent. It read, “Christian Michael Wentz, 1, Paonia, died April 17, 2010, at Delta County Memorial Hospital. Services are pending.”
An obituary said “He enjoyed walking on the household furniture and snuggling and giving kisses to his mother.”
Christian’s father has been charged with first-degree murder, a class 1 felony, and child abuse, acting knowingly and recklessly causing the death of a child, a class 2 felony. On September 7, the charges against Cox grew to include child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury.
On the morning of April 16, Crystal Wentz had dropped her son Christian off at the babysitter in Paonia. Depending on who investigators asked, Christian showed up either clean and fed, or dirty and hungry. The babysitter said he was fussy but ate and slept and, for the most part, seemed fine.
According to the affidavit, the babysitter had undressed him completely twice that day and hadn’t seen any bruises
But when investigators interviewed Cox about the day’s events, he said that the babysitter had brought the bruises to his attention and that he called Delta County Department of Health and Human Services after becoming concerned about the treatment his son was getting from Crystal, the boy’s mother.
Cox said when he called, he was instructed to go to the DHS office to file for temporary emergency custody of Christian, but he didn’t make it in time. The office had closed.
However, when investigators interviewed the DHS worker who spoke with Cox, she said he never mentioned bruising on the boy and instead called to complain that Christian wasn’t being well cared for by his mother. She never suggested that he file for emergency custody.
After leaving the babysitter’s house, Cox continued on to another house in Paonia, the affidavit says, where a friend was going to help change some bandages covering a burn on Christian’s left hand. The coroner said the burn, which Christian had gotten while in Cox’s care, was healing.
According to the affidavit, “The friends described [the boy] as being healthy and happy during their visit.”
When Cox went back to the babysitter’s house with Christian two hours later, she said Christian was still acting normal. It wasn’t until 10 p.m. that Edward Cox arrived home with his son, another man and three women.
It was late, and, Cox told investigators, he didn’t undress Christian before putting him to bed. He slept soundly, the affidavit said, “not crying or waking up.”
No one else saw Christian until a friend stopped by the house at around 8:15 a.m. to take Cox to work. The man told investigators he met Cox at the door of the house, where Cox was holding Christian, who was wrapped in a blanket. He didn’t see anyone else at the house and he didn’t see any bruises on Christian.
In a recorded conversation between Gunnison County coroner Frank Vader and Cox, Cox said his friends had left the house at about 2 a.m. and he was alone with his son after that. When the EMTs arrived seven hours later, Christian was still warm to the touch and he had bruises on his chest and ribs. But they never got the boy to regain his pulse or to resume breathing.
Investigators also said in the affidavit that the Health and Human Services worker who spoke with Cox and the woman who helped change the bandages on Christian’s hand heard Cox say that he was unhappy with the care the boy was getting from his mother.
But investigators couldn’t find anyone other than Cox who had seen bruises on Christian’s body before 9 a.m. on April 17. During the autopsy at Montrose Memorial Hospital, the pathologist saw the bruises on the boy’s chest and rib cage as well as on his forehead. The boy looked to have been “healthy, well nourished and well taken care of at the time of his death.”
X-rays didn’t show any signs of past physical abuse and the burn on his hand was healing.
The pathologist said the boy had gotten an injury to his liver from blunt trauma and had died of internal bleeding in less than five minutes.
The doctor told investigators the injuries weren’t consistent with those that might have been sustained during CPR. Instead, he said, they were consistent with being punched, kicked or struck by a flying object.
Investigators had enough to charge Cox with Christian’s murder and an arrest warrant was issued May 3.
But two weeks earlier, Cox hadn’t hesitated before talking to police. He told investigator William Folowell “he had nothing to hide and only wanted to find out what had happened to his son.”
A pattern of violence beginning in Michigan
His arrest in May was the second time Cox had been charged with a child abuse-related crime since moving to Colorado less than a year before. And while the affidavit says Cox told investigators that he was separated from Christian’s mother, Gunnison County court records show that Crystal Cox had a protection order against Edward Cox at the time of Christian’s death.
According to the affidavit, a woman who moved to Colorado from the Midwest with Cox in May 2009 told investigators they had come to Colorado, with their daughter, because there were three arrest warrants out for Cox, including one for domestic violence, in Michigan.
According to Michigan’s offender tracking information system, Cox was released from state prison in October 2008, after serving less than four months for a felony home invasion. That was the third time he had been released after serving time on a felony charge. The first two convictions—two years apiece—were for larceny, in 2000, and breaking and entering, in 2002.
All of Cox’s Michigan offenses were committed in St. Clair County, in the southeastern part of the state where Cox’s rap sheet documents more than 30 run-ins with police. His offenses range from traffic violations to several charges for breaking and entering or home invasion, as well as being noted as a habitual felon.
The woman who had moved to Colorado with Cox told investigators that before coming to Colorado, Cox had beaten her and knocked her unconscious. But he told her that he would never do it again. Cox wanted to move away somewhere, she said, to “get his life straightened out.”
After moving in together, according to the affidavit, Cox became very controlling and hard on their child. His temper grew short and he would yell and spank their daughter. He would twist her arms to make the girl comply. Eventually, according to the affidavit, Cox became abusive toward the girlfriend too, pushing and shoving her when the two would have arguments.
The girlfriend also said there would be times when she would arrive home from work to find bruises and scrapes on their daughter. The girl would say “Daddy has been mean” to her. The woman told investigators that a few days before returning to Michigan in October 2009, she found a burn mark on her daughter’s hand.
Cox, according to the affidavit, had no explanation.
After accepting the new charge against him, Cox awaits the next hearing on October 8 without bond in the Gunnison County Jail.