CODY, Wyo. (AP) — A Montana nature photographer was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to kidnapping and sexually abusing a 10-year-old girl in Wyoming who was later found wandering in the mountains outside Cody.
Jesse Paul Speer, 41, of Manhattan, Mont., said in court that he found his victim at the county library in October 2012 and tricked her into accompanying him by saying he needed help finding a lost puppy.
When the girl had second thoughts, Speer said he pulled a gun and bound her hands and ankles before driving her into the wilderness outside Yellowstone National Park, where he abused her, he said.
He offered no explanation for what he called the "evil that sprang from my heart."
His account of the kidnapping was backed up by an affidavit from law enforcement officials.
About four hours after her abduction, a pair of hunters found the girl wandering at night along a dirt road about 20 miles southeast of Cody.
Wyoming District Judge Steven Cranfill sentenced Speer after he pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and two counts of sexual abuse of a minor.
"When you completed this sick dream of yours, you discarded her like a piece of garbage on a cold desolate road," the judge told Speer. "You will leave a legacy in Park County, albeit a dark one. No parent will ever drop off their child at the library again without thinking of you."
Speer was given 30 to 50 years on the abuse counts and a life term for the kidnapping.
The judge said the abduction has forever changed Cody, a picturesque town of fewer than 10,000 that serves as the eastern gateway for Yellowstone National Park.
The victim's mother said in a statement read into the court record by an advocate that her daughter still has panic attacks and nightmares caused by the abuse.
"He infected her life forever, took her innocence from her," the statement said. The mother's name was not provided in court.
Speer appeared in court in shackles and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. He showed no reaction as his sentence was pronounced.
Earlier, he choked up and took a long moment to compose himself as he apologized to the victim, her family and the community.
"I am truly sorry for what I've done," he said. "I embrace the hatred and the anger directed my way and hope that most can release it."
Speer's attorney, J. Travis Smith, argued for a more lenient sentence to give his client a chance at rehabilitation. He pointed out that Speer had no prior criminal record, has suffered from mental health problems, and willingly confessed to investigators.
County Attorney Bryan Skoric countered that life in prison was appropriate for a man who came to Cody "trolling" for a victim. The girl's life was spared only by the good fortune of being found by the two hunters, he said.
Speer's "only concern was getting away from the crime he committed," Skoric said. "He chose to institute a course of crime that would forever alter her life, her family's life and this community's sense of security."
Speer pleaded guilty under an agreement with prosecutors that was approved by the victim's family, who hoped to avoid a trial, Skoric said. The agreement did not contain a sentencing recommendation.
Speer was tracked down by investigators who paired the girl's account of her abduction with video footage of his Toyota 4-Runner passing through the park on the day before the incident.
The divorced father of two was arrested by the FBI a week later in Belgrade, Mont., not far from his home. He acknowledged the abduction and said he had struggled with an addiction to pornography, according to court documents.