Court documents outline exhaustive manhunt in abduction case

2012-10-15T17:00:00Z 2013-11-19T14:49:06Z Court documents outline exhaustive manhunt in abduction caseBy ZACH BENOIT The Billings Gazette

CODY, Wyo. — Thanks in large part to detailed descriptions given by the 11-year-old victim, a man from Manhattan suspected of kidnapping and sexually assaulting the girl in Cody, Wyo., on Oct. 8 faces charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault and use of a firearm during a felony crime.

Authorities arrested him Saturday in Belgrade.

Charging documents filed Saturday in Park County, Wyo., District Court name the man as Jesse Paul Speer, 39. He is being held at the Gallatin County Detention Facility in Bozeman on a $2 million bond for a warrant out of Wyoming.

"I'm very confident that we have the right person," Cody Police Chief Perry Rockvam said at a press conference Monday morning.

Speer is being held without bond and waived his right to an extradition hearing during a court appearance later Monday in Bozeman.

He has not entered a plea to the charges.

Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, Speer spoke only to give Judge Holly Brown his name and to answer yes and no questions.

Public defender Eric Brewer told Brown that law enforcement officials had confiscated Speer's eyeglasses and had questioned him without an attorney present.

Brewer requested that officers not interrogate Speer any further without a lawyer. Brewer didn't know when Speer would be sent to Wyoming.

Speer most recently lived in Manhattan, a small community about 20 miles west of Bozeman, said Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin. He declined to release any other information about Speer.

Speer was arrested without incident at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday in Belgrade. Authorities declined to provide any details of the arrest.

Rockvam said during the press conference at Cody City Hall that there is more work to do after a weeklong hunt for the suspect.

“The investigation is still ongoing and additional charges will be filed,” he told a crowd of nearly 50 residents and news media from as far away as Denver.

The basic details of the abduction and assault have been known to the public since last week, but Monday’s press conference and the release of charging documents provided the first look at how authorities tracked Speer.

“This was a tremendous team effort by law enforcement as a whole,” Rockvam said.

Court documents state that the girl provided law enforcement with an extremely detailed and accurate account of the man, his vehicle, what happened and where they went during the abduction.

The records show that on Oct. 8, a man drove up to three girls at the Park County Complex and asked if they could help him find a lost puppy.

Charging documents say that one of the girls said she would help, only to decline. That prompted the man to point a gun at her chest and motion for her to get into the Toyota 4-Runner he was driving, according to the documents.

The man, later identified in court documents as Speer, then drove the girl to a nearby church and tied her hands behind her back with rope.

"The victim told the suspect that she knew that he was going to rape her, and the suspect responded that she wasn't going to get hurt," Rockvam said.

As he drove, Speer told the girl to keep her head down and struck her in the back of the head with the pistol once when she raised her head, court documents state. However, the girl kept her head partially up as they drove and took note of her surroundings, many of which she later pointed out to investigators.

They drove to a rural area outside Cody, where Speer allegedly assaulted the girl. Charging documents say that she saw photographs of naked young girls in the SUV before Speer put a cloth bag over her head and began to drive again.

He eventually untied the girl and walked her away from the vehicle before telling her to count to 50 and then leaving, the affidavit states.

The girl began walking down a nearby road and about 10 minutes later, two hunters, Shane Larsen and Jim Laske, who were with their sons, found her. They picked her up and called officials by about 8 p.m.

Charging documents detail how the girl took investigators on a step-by-step re-creation of where they went and gave them specific, accurate information on what happened.

“She’s a tremendously strong girl,” Rockvam said.

The documents outline how a multistate search began for Speer, even before law enforcement knew who he was. Rockvam and Bob Evans, supervisory special agent in charge from the Cheyenne division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said Monday that the search included officials from all over Wyoming and Montana at the local and state levels, as well as the FBI, including its behavioral analysis unit in Virginia.

“Those men and women, for the next six days, worked tirelessly,” Evans said.

Investigators reviewed surveillance tapes from an 80-mile radius around Cody and, in several instances, found footage that they believed was of the suspect and his vehicle.

As officials scoured the area for clues and sightings, an area logger reported that he found an abandoned cargo box near where the assault happened. Authorities believe Speer took the box off the Toyota to change the vehicle's appearance.

On Saturday, an FBI agent watched an Oct. 7 surveillance tape from the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park of a vehicle of the same description, with a driver who looked similar to the one described by the victim, the affidavit states.

Investigators were able to make out a Montana license plate on the vehicle, which was traced to Speer, according to charging documents. They then compared photos of Speer and a composite sketch of the abductor provided by the victim with surveillance footage from around Cody, and those elements matched.

During the news conference, Rockvam said an unrelated incident in Belgrade sped up the arrest of Speer on Saturday afternoon. The police department there spent part of the day searching for two 9-year-old girls, who were later found safe and unharmed, but officials initially wondered if the cases might be related.

“That definitely expedited our efforts in getting him in custody,” Rockvam said. “That is really what forced us to arrest him.”

The abduction shook the town of Cody, said Mayor Nancy Tia Brown, and prompted a range of emotions over the course of the investigation.

“In one week’s time, I think we’ve gone from shock to fear to anger to hope,” she said. “People were almost paralyzed with fear at first, but once (the victim) was found, that shifted the focus from fear about her safety to rage toward the suspect.”

Authorities have looked into a possible connection between the case and the disappearance of Jessica Ridgeway, a 10-year-old girl in Colorado, but now say they don't think the cases are related. Jessica's body was found Wednesday in a park about seven miles from her suburban Denver home. No arrests have been made in that case.

The Cody case also took a toll on law enforcement, with investigators working around the clock while watching hours of surveillance footage, following up on leads and tracking down potential witnesses.

Evans said cases of this type are especially difficult for law enforcement because they involve children.

“These cases are hectic for law enforcement,” he said. “They’re the worst kind we work.”

It’s been a tough year in Cody, officials said. The abduction and a string of other incidents — including the fatal shooting of a man by police, a homicide and armed robberies — has changed the town.

Parents have grown wary about letting their kids do things like walk to a nearby rec center alone or ride their bikes to school, Rockvam said.

“The innocence of our town has been lost in some way this last year,” he said.

Despite that, the tight-knit community of about 9,600 residents will find a way to move on, Brown said.

“You try to learn from it, you try to grow from it and you try to move forward, all without losing your faith in humanity,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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