CHEYENNE – The family of Silas Ojeda may never have true justice for the 13-month-old’s disappearance and presumed death.
But on Friday, Laramie County District Court Judge Thomas Campbell did the best he could, in spite of a last-minute bout of courtroom defiance – and the assertion that Silas was still alive – from the man who previously admitted to being responsible.
Campbell imposed the maximum possible sentence of 18 to 20 years in prison for Logan Rogers, the 23-year-old Cheyenne man who pleaded guilty last November to involuntary manslaughter for his role in the death of Silas, his then-girlfriend’s young son.
Silas is believed to have died around Oct. 21, 2016, and his body subsequently disposed of. However, searches of a landfill in Ault, Colorado, as well as various places around Cheyenne, failed to turn up any definitive remains.
At the time he entered his guilty plea on Nov. 19, Rogers told Campbell that he had used methamphetamine around the time Silas died, and that the boy had fallen off a counter and appeared to have possibly suffered a concussion. He said the boy died after suffering a seizure while Rogers was giving him a bath, and that Rogers tried to revive the boy for about an hour, to no avail.
In court Friday, two members of Silas’ family spoke in favor of Rogers receiving the maximum sentence for Silas’ death. The child’s aunt, Ciarra Buelow, said she believed that while Rogers’ negligence played a major role in Silas’ death, she felt a sense of “manipulation, (that) the intentions of this person were not pure.”
Prior to entering his guilty plea, Rogers had presented various stories and timelines as to how Silas disappeared. He initially told the boy’s mother and law enforcement that an acquaintance of his named Santiago took the boy on an overnight fishing and camping trip.
But Rogers eventually told investigators that the boy died, and he wrapped his body in a white comforter and put him in a trash bin on the Laramie County Community College campus, which led investigators to search the Colorado landfill, where most of Cheyenne’s municipal waste is dumped.
“The damage done to this family is never going to be undone,” Buelow said to Rogers on Friday. “We’ve been robbed. You’ve taken a son, a grandson, a brother, a nephew, a cousin.
“What makes my family the most sick is the injustice and the abuse,” she added. “You purposely exposed that baby to meth and didn’t think of the consequences because you thought you had it all figured out.”
Silas’ grandfather, Richard Ojeda, said he still believed Silas’ death was not the result of negligence, but murder.
“You’re saying he fell off the counter, and then you threw him in a Dumpster like a piece of trash!” he said. “To this day, we don’t know when or how he died. I can’t imagine what sort of horror you put him through.”
In arguing for the maximum prison sentence, Laramie County District Attorney Jeremiah Sandburg said no sentence would give Silas’ family what they truly wanted – to have Silas back with them.
“The defendant has taken something from the family; something that can’t be returned,” Sandburg said. “There have been different stories, but one consistency: that Rogers had custody (of Silas) when he went missing.”
Rogers’ attorney, public defender Brandon Booth, said he sympathized with the unimaginable pain Silas’ family was going through, but he also questioned portrayals of his client as an “uncaring monster.”
“I have been the only one close to Logan (during this process), and I see an individual with a significant substance abuse problem,” Booth said.
Booth also acknowledged reports that Rogers had previously considered withdrawing his guilty plea in late January and early February. Booth said Rogers had been getting shoddy legal advice from a fellow inmate at the county jail that was not applicable to his case, yet that he nonetheless believed could help him.
“I don’t want the court to consider (Rogers’ actions) as moving away from acceptance of responsibility,” Booth said. “Logan didn’t try to run. He told me over and over again he wanted to handle this.”
Booth also agreed with Sandburg that Rogers had “said a lot of stuff that doesn’t add up” regarding Silas’ death and disappearance, but he seemed to give credence to Rogers’ insinuation that Silas’ mother, Rhiannon Ojeda, may have more knowledge of the situation than she had let on, as well as potentially a role in disposal of the boy’s body.
While Rhiannon Ojeda was arrested at one point on suspicion of child endangerment-enhanced with controlled substances and child endangering-health, Sandburg’s office declined to formally charge her. Sandburg dismissed Booth’s conjecture about Rhiannon on Friday, saying that had Rogers opted to go to trial, “the state would have provided evidence that would have shown otherwise.”
Booth’s main argument for leniency in Rogers’ sentencing was that, based on case histories, sentences of 18 to 20 years are usually passed down for more serious crimes, while involuntary manslaughter cases see lesser sentences. Booth argued for a sentence of six to 12 or eight to 12 years instead.
When asked to give his thoughts on an appropriate sentence, however, Rogers launched into a rant, professing his innocence and alleging his guilty plea was made under duress.
“I’m not going to keep saying what these people want me to say,” Rogers said. “Silas Ojeda is alive, and I’m not going to be some scapegoat for these people anymore.”
Judge Campbell said those statements did not change his acceptance of Rogers’ guilty plea, which was made under oath. At that, Rogers interrupted, saying, “I was threatened and coerced to say everything I’ve said!”
“My turn, my turn,” Campbell interjected. “You can stop now, Mr. Rogers.”
“You guys won’t let me fire my own public defender!” Rogers persisted. “I’m innocent of this crime!”
Campbell said Rogers could be taken back to the jail and listen to his sentencing remotely if he refused to be silent. He added that Rogers’ outbursts “could be taken by the court as a lack of remorse,” giving Campbell incentive to reject Rogers’ plea agreement, “but I’m going to skip that today.”
Despite Booth’s and Rogers’ appeals that Rogers was not the monster he’d been made out to be, Campbell concluded that, “This isn’t a name-calling contest. This is about the disappearance and presumed death of a baby.”
With that, he agreed to impose the maximum sentence of 18 to 20 years. A lesser charge of child endangerment was also dismissed as a condition of Rogers’ plea agreement.