Seated at the front of the Pinellas courtroom, Cheyenne Keck gripped the fleshy arms of her chubby 6-month-old son Dakota James, but her thoughts were of another son, the one she lost three years ago.
She watched as the man she once loved pleaded guilty to killing their baby, 7-week-old Tylor James Keck, and another thought came to her: closure.
Greg Ellguth, 24, agreed Tuesday to serve 50 years in prison in exchange for prosecutors not seeking the death penalty.
"I feel liberated," Keck said after the judge finalized the plea agreement. "I'm happy it's over, I'm glad Tylor got his justice."
Ellguth was arrested in May 2005 after hurling Tylor to the floor because the infant was fussy and wouldn't take his formula.
The couple, who lived with Ellguth's grandmother in Largo at the time, were up at about 1 a.m. that morning.
Keck had tried feeding Tylor, but handed the baby off to Ellguth so she could go outside and smoke a cigarette.
While outside, Keck said, she heard the baby scream and returned to find a bump on his head. They called paramedics, who took Tylor to All Children's Hospital. He was placed on life support until a neurologist told the couple he would never recover. He died May 7, 2005.
Ellguth later confessed to throwing the baby onto the floor as if he were spiking a football. The infant had multiple skull fractures, said Stephanie Bergen, the lead prosecutor on the case.
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, citing Ellguth's two previous aggravated assault charges.
"We felt it was appropriate that he get life in prison or the death penalty," said Doug Crow, another prosecutor on the case. "But we really considered the welfare of the mom who lost her child."
Inside the courtroom, Ellguth, who is 6 feet 7, stood before the judge dressed in a dark suit and blue shirt. He answered simply "Yes, sir," when asked if he understood he was giving up his rights and accepting the punishment without a trial.
Ellguth is to serve 40 years for a second-degree murder charge and another decade for an aggravated child abuse charge.
His mother, Belinda Ellguth, wept as the judge read the prison terms.
When invited to speak, Cheyenne Keck approached the stand wearing a T-shirt that said "Jesus cradles Tylor James in his arms."
"I just want to know why you did this to Tylor; why did you do this to me," Keck asked Ellguth through tears. "Why you ruined my world?"
As she talked, Ellguth hung his head with his eyes downcast.
It wasn't always this way, Ellguth's family said.
The couple met at Panera Bread and hit it off quickly. When Keck got pregnant with Tylor, the couple moved in with Ellguth's grandmother.
Even though the odds were against the couple — they were low on money and Ellguth had dropped out of school in his junior year of high school — they still had plans to marry.
Ellguth looked forward to starting a family. "He came to the baby shower," said Brenda Bartholomew, a family friend. "He was so excited."
But the pressures of becoming new parents mounted quickly. Ellguth was working 12 to 14 hours a day, said Belinda Ellguth, his mother.
They said they think the sentence was unfair.
Keck said she feels relief, like she can finally move on and concentrate on raising Dakota.
She says she's different now. For one thing, she no longer smokes.
Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at email@example.com or (727)893-8828.