A Texas man has been sentenced to life in prison after he abducted his 3-week-old son four years ago and the boy died in an hot U-Haul with methamphetamine in his system, PEOPLE confirms.
Michael Alan Webster, 40, was convicted Oct. 3 of injury to a child in the August 2014 death of his infant son, Michael Webster Jr.
Webster maintains his innocence.
Prosecutors said he “stole” the child from the boy’s mother on July 31, 2014, after she had fled from his abuse days earlier.
Over an eight-day period, Webster refused to return Michael Jr., evading his family’s efforts and pressure from the court and police. Nonetheless he regularly sent text messages to the boy’s mother and others, prosecutors said, even lying about the boy being injured to try and coerce the mother into meeting him.
The boy died on Aug. 8 from “complications of an unsafe sleeping environment,” Montgomery County Assistant District attorney Joel Daniels tells PEOPLE.
Webster and his son had been sleeping in a U-Haul outside the home of a relative, who seemingly did not know Webster had his boy with him.
After Michael Jr. died, Webster told a relative who called 911.
Daniels says Webster’s son most likely died from heat exposure — the U-Haul’s air conditioning had stopped running after the vehicle ran out of gas — or of asphyxiation from obstructed breathing as he was “completely covered up with a blanket” when he was found dead.
“He was in an infant carrier car seat, essentially on the floor of the U-Haul in between the seats, not mounted or strapped in, with multiple amounts of bedding on top and around him,” says Assistant District Attorney Shanna Redwine, Daniels’ co-counsel.
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Daniels says the presence of methamphetamine in the child’s system was also a contributing factor.
It remains unclear how Michael Jr. ingested the drug, though it’s possible he inhaled it while his father was smoking in the vehicle.
The child had “a very small amount” of meth in his blood, Daniels says. Redwine says Webster had large amounts of the drug in his system.
Webster — a career criminal with a rap sheet that included domestic violence against his son’s mother as well as sexual assault offenses and drug possession — was on parole when he took Michael Jr.
His appellate attorney, Rick Brass, says defense experts who testified during the trial disputed the findings as to how his son died.
Instead Brass blamed a “neurological abnormality that caused the child’s death.”
He maintains that, on the night Michael Jr. died, Webster and the boy went to sleep with the U-Haul still running and the air conditioning on. When Webster awoke, the power was off — and Michael Jr. wasn’t breathing.
“While he was sleeping apparently the baby died,” Brass says.
Webster plans to appeal his conviction and sentencing.