‘Death is too good for them’: Wisconsin grandmother of murdered boy says father’s sentencing brings little relief

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(Left) Kelly Sandoval, WISC-TV photo (Right) Takoda Collins, family photo

MADISON, Wis. — Born and first abused in Wisconsin, a young boy’s tragic life-and-death story has reached a major mile marker, now that his father has been sentenced for raping and killing him in Dayton, Ohio.

Takoda Collins died in Dayton in December, 2019, just days before his eleventh birthday. Prosecutors found his father, Al-Muhatan McLean guilty of raping and killing him–and fiancé Amanda Hinze and her sister Jennifer Ebert were convicted of manslaughter and other charges for looking on and doing nothing about the abuse.

Last week, an Ohio judge sentenced McLean to life in prison, with an option for parole after 51 years when he’s 83 years old.

“What you did was pure evil. You provided no mercy to your son and you deserve none from this court,” Judge Dennis Adkins said during the sentencing. “This is the most horrific case of abuse and torture this court has ever seen.”

Takoda’s story began in Wisconsin when he was born in 2008. His mother, Robin Collins, lost custody of him in Dane County family court after abusing him when he was still a baby. After a stint in foster care, according to his grandmother, his father was eventually awarded full custody of him in 2013, while building a violent history of his own.

In 2014, Mclean got permission from the judge to leave the state for Pennsylvania. Instead, he went to Dayton.

An empty sense of justice

While the man who killed him and the people who watched and did nothing are behind bars, that knowledge brings little relief to grandmother Kelly Sandoval, who lives near Columbus, Wisconsin.

“There’s never gonna really be justice,” she said. “He’s gone, you know, and they’re still breathing. Death is too good for them. If he’s tortured every day for the rest of his life, and her too, that would be justice.”

She remembers him as a small child who spent his weekends at her home when he was in foster care, loving fishing and Halloween. When his father moved him out of Wisconsin, she lost track of him for awhile when they didn’t settle in Pennsylvania like Mclean had initially told a Dane County family court judge. She and the mother, Robin Collins–who had lost custody of him after abusing Takoda herself when he was a baby–tried to track him down.

A couple years later in 2016, Mclean is back on the police radar, this time in Dayton, Ohio–launching multiple contacts before killing Takoda in December, 2019.

“They took him away from one monster,” Sandoval said. “Then, gives him to the other monster that killed him.”

Failures in Ohio

The WHIO-TV investigative team, the Dayton Daily News, and other Ohio-based media outlets have covered the story at length, uncovering a pattern of poor interagency communication after frequent police involvement and child services referrals in the months and years leading up to Takoda’s death.

“Everybody  had a piece or two of the puzzle, but because they weren’t talking to each other and communicating, nobody had the full picture,” WHIO-TV investigative reporter John Bedell said. “That led to multiple public agencies missing multiple red flags, and again, multiple chances to save Takoda within the child welfare system.”

The coverage and multiple investigations–including one from the Montgomery County Prosecutor Matt Heck’s office–led to recommended policy changes at the Dayton Police Department as well as a series of recommendations and a proposed law for improvement at child welfare agencies in Ohio responsible for child abuse investigations.

“Now we’re on the trail of a reform movement to fix the system here in our state of Ohio,” Bedell said.

A story starting in Wisconsin

Takoda’s short life started in Wisconsin, where his mother abused him as a baby and ultimately went to jail on additional charges, losing custody of Takoda. Still in Wisconsin, in January 2020 she told WISC-TV she regretted not working to get him back.

Grandmother Sandoval says she tried to get custody of him but couldn’t.

“I had three other grandkids I was taking care of and working a fulltime job,” she said. “They said I had too much on my plate.”

Instead, a Dane County judge awarded Mclean with custody. At the time, he’d pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for beating and choking a man. Three days after the custody decision, court records show he was charged with another violent crime: beating his fiance with a metal pole. Those charges were dismissed when the victim didn’t cooperate.

A custody battle ensued, at the end of which Mclean got permission from the judge to move with Takoda to Pennsylvania. There’s no record of him making that move; instead, he turned up later in Dayton, Ohio–where property records show his fiancé bought a home later in 2014, according to WHIO-TV.

A family court legal expert told WISC-TV that family court judges, who are constantly processing custody and divorce cases, aren’t required to check addresses or follow up on moves in most instances. It’s not part of a court’s role to follow up on address changes out of state. If child’s court was involved–where records would be off limits to the public–child services would be responsible for checking on those cases and ensuring the right case information was passed to the state where the child moved.

But privacy laws mean it’s not known if child protective services was playing a role in Takoda’s case at the time of the move. When reached for comment, Wisconsin’s Department of Children and Families said they couldn’t confirm or deny whether Takoda had ever been in the system.

In the meantime, Sandoval is left with what, to her, feels like hollow justice.

“People think that just because the sentencing is over that it’s over for me, the family. It’s not,” she said. “They say ‘Oh, now you can heal, you can get closure.’ No I can’t. Not until I get done what I want to get done.”