BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A federal judge handed down a 42-year prison sentence Wednesday for a Montana man who chased down and kidnapped a 4-year-old girl, then brutally raped her and left her for dead in an abandoned pickup in the middle of winter.
A jury convicted John William Lieba II in April of kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse of a child and assault resulting in serious injury on a minor. He faced up to life in prison.
The defendant's attorneys said he had stopped taking his anti-psychotic medication prior to the kidnapping and could not remember the events.
Lieba became a suspect almost immediately after the girl's Feb. 26, 2016 disappearance and was arrested a day later.
A friend of the victim testified at his trial that she watched Lieba snatch the four-year-old girl after they'd been playing in a park at night in the town of Wolf Point.
He was recognized by the mother of another girl he chased earlier that same night in the park but who got away, according to court records.
The victim was not found for two days, when a sheriff's deputy noticed her shoeless footprints in a patch of mud behind a fertilizer plant and discovered the girl — alive but traumatized — on a makeshift bed in the cab of an old pickup truck.
Bruises and burst blood vessels on her head and neck indicated Lieba had tried to strangle the girl, according to law enforcement officers and doctors who examined her.
The sexual assault injured the girl and infected her with an incurable sexually transmitted disease, said Dr. Cynthia Brewer of the Billings Clinic who examined the girl and testified at Lieba's April trial.
"The child will forever be reminded of this trauma," Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Weldon wrote in a sentencing memo to U.S. District Judge Brian Morris. "Lieba, through his actions, forced every parent in Montana to confront their worst nightmare."
Defense attorneys had requested 30 years in prison, noting that Lieba would be approaching middle age by the time of his release.
Assistant Federal Defender R. Henry "Hank" Branom said in court filings that treatment for Lieba to address his substance abuse and mental health issues also was needed.
The Fort Peck Reservation is home to the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes and has a population of about 10,000. The kidnapping and assault of the girl was followed weeks later by the killing of a 1-year-old girl by a caregiver who put the victim's body in a trash can.
Tribal officials have blamed both crimes on the rising use of methamphetamine on the reservation, but it's uncertain what involvement Lieba had with the drug.