Man will face up to 36 years in baby’s death

Justin Keel

Owen Reak

A tentative plea agreement calls for a prison sentence of 24 to 36 years for a man charged in the beating death of a toddler boy, the man’s attorney told a judge Thursday.

Public Defender Dorothea Reiff told a judge that Justin Keel, 26, is expected next week to plead guilty to a single count of child abuse resulting in death. In exchange, the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office will dismiss a host of charges, including first-degree murder, in connection with the slaying of 19-month-old Owen Reak, the son of Keel’s ex-girlfriend who bled to death internally April 11 after suffering blows to the stomach.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Hand confirmed the terms of the deal.

Keel is scheduled to formalize the plea agreement Tuesday.

In taking the deal, Keel will avoid life in prison, the penalty for a first-degree murder conviction.

Keel was arrested May 24 in New Mexico on suspicion of child abuse resulting in Owen’s death. Owen died April 11 at Montrose Memorial Hospital, several hours after the boy’s grandfather, Eric Feely, called 911 and reported finding him cold to the touch and stiff in his crib. The child had been left with his grandparents April 10 in Montrose by his mother, Amber Reak.

An arrest warrant affidavit said Amber Reak told the grandparents Owen was throwing up the morning of April 10 and she and Keel took the boy to Community Hospital, where his abdomen was X-rayed.

She said doctors thought Owen might have a case of stomach flu, but everything seemed fine.

An autopsy suggested the child was slowly bleeding to death, according to the affidavit. The internal bleeding was caused by blows to the stomach that ruptured the intestines.

Amber Reak told investigators she was showering the morning of April 10 when she heard a pair of “booms,” emerged from the shower and saw Keel holding her son, the affidavit said. Keel explained Owen was “fussy” after falling off the bed.

Keel denied hurting the boy and eventually told investigators that his dog, a boxer named “Rusty,” may have hurt him.

Owen was fatally injured just weeks after social workers opened a case involving the boy. The Mesa County Department of Human Services opened an investigation March 22 after Owen suffered a leg fracture while in the care of Justin Keel and while Amber Reak was working.

It was reported to a caseworker that Owen’s leg got stuck in his high chair and the injury happened when Keel “got Owen unstuck,” from the chair.

“Case manager stated doctors stated the injury could have been caused in such a fashion and Ms. Reak agreed to no longer have Justin provide daycare for Owen,” the affidavit said.
Feely, Owen’s grandfather, said he was pleased with the terms of the agreement outlined on Thursday. Feely said he’s vetoed several prior proposed deals in the case because he felt the proposed prison terms were too short.

“Our desire was for a longer sentence to make it worth it to us, without having to sit through a trial,” Feely said.


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