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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Teen pleads guilty in Sprague toddler-kidnapping case

Nicole and Michael Wright hold their 22-month-old son, Owen, who was the victim of an attempted abduction from Sprague City Park on Sunday. The screams of Owen’s sister Delicia, 8, and brother Brenden, 10, alerted a pair of teenage boys who gave pursuit. (Dan Pelle)
DAVENPORT, Wash. – The 15-year-old accused of grabbing a toddler from a park in Sprague earlier this year pled guilty Wednesday to a charge of second-degree kidnapping. The crime garnered the attention of national news outlets after the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, in hopes of identifying the kidnapper, released startling security footage showing the perpetrator running down a sidewalk with the 22-month-old victim in his arms. Three days after the abduction, deputies arrested the teen who lives in Sprague. Lincoln County Deputy Prosecutor Melvin Hoit argued there were aggravating circumstances that justified an exceptional sentence of 56-70 weeks in juvenile detention instead of the standard range of 15-36 weeks. The boy was tried as a juvenile and The Spokesman-Review does not typically name juvenile suspects. Lincoln County Judge John Strohmaier imposed the sentence requested by Hoit. The teenager will get credit for the nearly 14 weeks he already has been in jail and will be required to register for the state’s sex offenders and kidnappers registry. The court heard no information from the teen about his motivation and there is nothing to show it was a one-time incident, Strohmaier said. “I just have grave concerns that I don’t have an answer for here,” he said. “We have the right to conclude that what he was up to was dangerous.” The boy approached the 22-month-old toddler and his 8-year-old sister and 10-year-old brother in the Sprague City Park on March 8 and talked to them. He told them he was a babysitter. After several minutes of conversation, the teen picked up the toddler and carried him as he ran down the street as the victim’s older siblings ran after him, screaming. Two other teens, Andrew Crain and Isaac Yow, heard the commotion and also joined the chase. The kidnapper put the boy down at the edge of a vacant lot about two blocks away from the park and ran off. The teen was arrested several days later. Strohmaier said he believes the teen taking the time to talk to the children first shows his intent as well as an element of “planning and scheming.” “It was not spur of the moment,” Strohmaier said. Michael Wright, the father of the kidnapping victim, told the judge that he worried what happened to his son will happen to someone else if the teen is allowed back on the street. “I would like for him to get the maximum punishment possible,” he said. Christian Phelps, the teen’s attorney, argued there were not enough aggravating factors to justify an exceptional sentence. “I appreciate that this case is sensational to this community and certainly alarming,” he said. But “we don’t house the defendant so the community can calm down”. “This 22-month-old child was in the care of his brother and sister, playing in the park,” said Hoit, who added that the manner of the attempted abduction was “especially cruel and depraved.” Hoit also talked about an incident reported to police last summer where a mother said the same teen approached her developmentally disabled 11-year-old son at her home, took him by the hand and starting leading him away. No charges were filed in the case because officials said it did not meet the legal threshold required for child luring. “I think that speaks to the risk to reoffend as well,” he said. Strohmaier said the previous incident also gives him pause. “He’s done something like this in the past,” he said. “When you have a pattern, that gives me some concern.” Hoit said he hopes the teen receives counseling and other treatment while in juvenile detention. “(The teen) is a very damaged young man,” the attorney said. “We know some facts about his background and they’re very troubling.” After Strohmaier imposed the sentence, the teenager’s grandfather, addressed the court. “When that boy came to live with me he was a total wreck,” he said. “He’s come a long way. He has never harmed any child.” Wright, the victim’s father, said after the court hearing he hopes the teen gets help. He’s also relieved that the teen will have to register with the state as a kidnapper. “His sentence is a lot more than the norm,” Wright said. “I’m grateful for what he’s been given.” Phelps said the extensive video surveillance played a role in the decision to plead guilty to the kidnapping charge. “The only other option was to have a trial,” he said. “The evidence was significant.”