Elizabeth Woolheater pleaded guilty to murder and child abuse

By Steve Helling
October 07, 2019 04:58 PM
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Elizabeth Woolheater
Credit: Sedgwick County Jail

A Kansas mother has been sentenced to 19 years in prison for murdering her 2-year-old son because he refused to eat a hot dog.

Elizabeth Woolheater of Wichita pleaded guilty to murder and child abuse in the case of her son, Tony Bunn, who was beaten to death in 2018. In an affidavit obtained by the Wichita Eagle, Woolheater told police that she “lost it” when Tony did not want to eat his hot dog for breakfast.

The case began on May 4, 2018, when Tony was beaten unconscious while he was home with Woolheater and her boyfriend, Lucas Diel. They called 911. Police who arrived on the scene found him unconscious on the living room floor. He was not breathing.

According to the affidavit, Woolheater and Diel gave conflicting stories about what had happened.

Woolheater told police that she “lost it” when the boy refused to swallow bites of the hot dog she gave him for breakfast. She told police that she slapped him across the face while Diel held the food in his mouth. She then said she he left the room and heard Diel hitting the boy repeatedly.

Lucas Diel,
Credit: Sedgwick County Jail

Diel had a different story. He said he didn’t strike Tony. Rather, he said, the toddler fell out of bed.

According to an autopsy report that was released in court, Tony had injuries that seemed to indicate a pattern of abuse. He had previously suffered a broken rib, arm and nose. He had also had bruises on his face, torso and buttocks.

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According to an Associated Press report on Kansas Public Radio, the Department for Children and Families had been alerted that the boy was abused before he died.

In June, Diel pleaded guilty to second-degree intentional murder. PEOPLE confirms that he has been sentenced to 49 years in prison.

Woolheater was sentenced to 19 years in prison on Friday, and Judge Jeff Syrios reprimanded her during the sentencing hearing.

“Tony was under your charge,” Syrios said, according to the Wichita Eagle. “Your job was to raise him and protect him. You failed him in the very worst way possible.”

During sentencing, Woolheater read from a prepared statement in which she expressed remorse for her actions. “I know that I’ll never be able to make up for or undo the mistakes I made,” she said. “I know that I failed my son when he needed me. I do want it to be known that I did love Tony — and I still do — with all my heart.”

Woolheater’s plea agreement recommended she receive the maximum sentence possible on each count against her, and that they be served consecutively. She was sentenced to 19 years, 5 months. She must serve the full sentence under Kansas law.