Murder charge in toddler death

Justin Keel

Owen Reak

Prosecutors filed a first-degree murder charge against a Grand Junction man who was arrested earlier this year in the beating death of a toddler boy.

Justin Lee Keel, 26, waived advisement Thursday on the new allegation filed in connection with the death 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.

The District Attorney’s Office has tapped a section of Colorado first-degree murder law alleging Keel “knowingly” caused the death of a child under 12 and that Keel was in a position of trust over the boy. Keel was previously charged with child abuse resulting in death and misdemeanor child abuse.

Keel now faces a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole if convicted of first-degree murder.

The stiffest penalty for a conviction on child abuse resulting in death, a Class 2 felony, is 48 years in prison.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Hand declined comment Thursday on the new developments in the case.

Keel was arrested May 24 in New Mexico after Owen’s death was investigated by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department.

Owen died April 11 at Montrose Memorial Hospital, several hours after the boy’s grandparents 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 autopsy said the boy’s 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” before she emerged from the shower and saw Keel holding her son, the affidavit said. Keel explained the child was “fussy” after falling off the bed, the affidavit said.

Keel denied hurting the boy, but later told investigators that his dog, a boxer named “Rusty,” may have hurt him, that affidavit said.

Keel is being held at the Mesa County Jail on $1 million bond.


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