Life in Prison Sought for Abduction, Rape of 4-Year-Old Girl

Girl was not found for two days, when a sheriff's deputy noticed her shoeless footprints

By Molly Priddy

BILLINGS — A Montana man turned every parent’s nightmare into reality when he chased down a 4-year-old girl at night in a park, snatched her while a friend watched helplessly, then raped the girl and left her for dead on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, according to prosecutors seeking a life sentence.

John William Lieba II was expected to be sentenced Wednesday in federal court after jury convicted him of kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse of a child and assault resulting in serious injury.

Lieba was suspected immediately after the girl’s Feb. 26 disappearance and arrested a day later, according to court records.

But the girl 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 — dehydrated and cold — 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 Burrows 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. “The United States without hesitation recommends life in prison. Lieba, through his actions, forced every parent in Montana to confront their worst nightmare.”

During Lieba’s trial, a 12-year-old neighbor of the victim testified that she also had been chased by Lieba at a playground in the town of Wolf Point the night the younger girl disappeared, but she managed to get away.

The defendant’s attorneys said he had stopped taking his anti-psychotic medication prior to the kidnapping and could not remember the events.

Defense attorneys requested 30 years in prison, noting that Lieba would be approaching middle age by the time of his release.

“The most effective protection for the public will be for Mr. Leiba to address his substance abuse and mental health issues,” Assistant Federal Defender R. Henry Branom wrote in documents.

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.