GASTONIA, N.C. -- As the Gaston County Deputy Clerk of Superior Court, Shellie Colgate has sat through many trials.
But this week, she sat in on one of the toughest of her career. Colgate said she would fight to hold back tears during the day but would cry every night.
“You know you have to sit there and listen in detail to how a child was tortured and starved and how he passed away,” said Colgate.
The child she’s referring to was 4-year-old Malachi Golden. Investigators say the young boy, who suffered from seizures, was tortured and starved to death during the last few months of his life. This week, the boy’s step-father 30-year-old, Thomas Cheeks was sentenced to life in prison for his murder.
“It just seemed like he was just so neglected in life and then it just seemed like he was being neglected in death also,” said Colgate.
After his death in November 2015, Malachi was laid to rest at a Belmont cemetery without a grave marker or headstone. But Colgate said after listening to testimony during the trial, she felt compelled to not let the boy be forgotten and started a fundraiser in the Gaston County Clerk of Superior Court’s office to buy him a headstone. Colgate put out a fundraiser jar and hoped to collect money from people in the office, but once word spread, Colgate says the donations started pouring in.
“Lawyers started giving and we’ve had people call from the public, just you know, on the internet. In just a day and a half, we’ve collected more than $1,200 dollars,” explained Colgate.
Colgate says Malachi’s seventh birthday would have been this Sunday, and so she’s hoping to be able to purchase the headstone as soon as possible.
“Well, it makes you feel like you aren’t so helpless. You know you can’t save him but you know you can do something, make something good out of it,” said Colgate.
Colgate says she also hopes Malachi’s story will help save other children before it’s too late.
“If you think that something's going on with a child, you know, call, let DSS investigate. If there’s no substantiation to it, then there’s not. But if there is something going on then maybe you could save the life of a child. I wish people would have called to help Malachi more,” she said.
According to the cemetery where Malachi is laid to rest, his mother, Tiffany Cheeks, owns the plot and must give permission for anything to be placed at his gravesite.
Tiffany is also behind bars serving time for her role in Malachi’s death. In 2015, she was charged with one count of Felony Child Abuse/Neglect resulting In Serious Bodily Injury by not providing adequate care, medical treatment, and nutrition, resulting in serious bodily injury, malnutrition, dehydration and other medical complications.
North Carolina State Law requires that any person who has cause to suspect that a child is being abused or neglected is required by law to report the situation to the local Department of Social Services in the county in which the child lives or is found. You can also call North Carolina Child Protection Services at 919-733-9467.