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Lillianah BigCrane

Lillianah BigCrane

POLSON – A Hot Springs woman made her initial appearance on a felony kidnapping charge here Monday afternoon, and then was immediately released on her own recognizance.

Lake County Justice of the Peace Joey Jayne rejected a request by Deputy Lake County Attorney James Lapotka to set a $5,000 bond, or $500 cash bail, for 34-year-old Jamie T. Finley.

Finley is accused of abducting her 2-year-old niece, Lillianah Dawn Marie BigCrane, from a Polson home Saturday night, prompting a statewide Amber Alert.

Several of Finley’s relatives who attended the arraignment told the Missoulian afterward that Finley removed Lillianah to keep the girl’s mother from taking her to Butte with a boyfriend they say abuses both the mother and the little girl.

The Amber Alert described Lillianah as 2 feet tall, weighing 36 pounds, “with a cigarette burn scar on her forehead.” An accompanying photograph showed a little girl with what appeared to be a separate long scar across her forehead that did not seem consistent with a cigarette burn.

The relatives were quickly whisked away by an unidentified woman, who advised them not to say anything further until they met with Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Child Protective Services. Attorneys on Monday indicated Lillianah is in the custody of the department, and had been placed in the home of a local woman.

Finley was ordered by Jayne to have no contact with her sister and Lillianah’s mother, Evelyn Franks, or her niece.

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Finley’s attorney, public defender Steve Eschenbacher, told Jayne it was a complicated situation. Finley had taken Lillianah, Eschenbacher said, but had done so “to protect her.”

Eschenbacher said Finley had raised Franks, her younger sister, and family members said Finley had often cared for Lillianah over the past two years.

Finley is married – her husband was one of a dozen relatives in the courtroom Monday, as was Lillianah’s biological father – and cares for two stepchildren ages 13 and 11, Eschenbacher told Jayne.

She has long ties to the area, Eschenbacher said, and “given the circumstances of the offense, we feel O.R. (being released on her own recognizance) is appropriate.”

Initial reports from law enforcement indicated Finley had allegedly assaulted her sister while taking Lillianah, but kidnapping was the only charge for which she appeared, via a video hookup from the Lake County Detention Center, on Monday.

Lapotka has 30 days to file a charging affidavit, and said, “We’re still trying to decide what the most appropriate charges will be.”

“Right now, we’re just happy the girl is back and safe,” Lapotka added. He credited sheriff’s deputies, the Montana Highway Patrol, CSKT Police and Polson Police with the quick return of the 2-year-old, who was located with her aunt Sunday morning in Sanders County, which includes Hot Springs, where Finley lives.

“The court doesn’t take lightly” the charge against Finley, Jayne said, but noted “the child is safe now” in announcing her decision to release Finley on her own recognizance.

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