CLEVELAND — The mother of a 6-year-old girl who was kidnapped and raped by Justin Christian said her family agreed to a plea deal imposing a 35-year prison sentence on Christian so her daughter won’t have to “look into the devil’s eyes to testify.”
The mother asked not to be identified by the media as she read an emotional statement telling Christian how his actions May 21, 2016, created a turmoil that has rippled through her family.
The deal allows Christian, 30, of Lorain, to avoid a trial by pleading guilty to kidnapping, rape, gross sexual imposition and burglary. Judge Nancy Russo accepted the deal in the Cuyahoga County Justice Center on Thursday with the recommendation that the 35-year sentence be served in its entirety.
In February 2016, Christian climbed a ladder and broke into a Furnace Street home in Elyria through the bedroom window of a 10-year-old girl. He grabbed the girl and said he would kill her whole family if she screamed, Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Matthew Meyer said.
The girl was able to fend off the attack by kicking Christian and screaming for her father, who grabbed a gun and attempted to chase Christian.
Then, in May, after several days of “prowling and casing” a home on West 104th Street in Cleveland, Christian kidnapped the sleeping 6-year-old from her home and took her to the house he shared with his mother and stepfather on West 22nd Street in Lorain where he kept her for the next 17 hours, Meyer said.
Christian ordered the girl to stay silent, Meyer said. He raped her and put her in a duffel bag where she stayed while Christian drove back to Cleveland and left her out on the street alone in Cleveland. She was found by a resident who immediately notified police, Meyer said.
The girl, now 7, spent a week in the hospital while investigators collected DNA samples from her body and clothing that would later match positively to Christian. The girl also was able to give an accurate description of a tattoo on Christian’s neck and the room in which he kept her, Meyer said.
State Attorney General Mike DeWine allowed law enforcement to use familial DNA to catch Christian after authorities spent months following up on hundreds of leads. Authorities were able to link the DNA evidence taken from the girl to DNA found on the ladder outside the Elyria home. The DNA matched that of Christian’s deceased brother, which allowed investigators to get a warrant for Christian’s DNA and make the arrest.
This case marks the first time familial DNA has been used to solve a crime in Ohio. Though controversial, DeWine said it was necessary.
“If there was ever a case that yelled out for familial DNA, it was this case,” DeWine said.
DeWine was joined by representatives from several of the agencies that participated in Christian’s arrest.
“Today is a good day. We got a monster behind bars,” Elyria Police Chief Duane Whitely said. “Hopefully we don’t have to deal with this again, but if we do, we know we have the backup here to get it done.”
The mother of the 6-year-old said each of her five children have suffered from Christian’s actions.
“I always preach to my children never to talk to strangers,” the mother said. “Never did I think that I should have also taught them to sleep with their eyes open.”
An older sister has trouble sleeping without checking the windows and doors, the mother said. Another sister has said she wished it was her instead of the 6-year-old, and a brother no longer will play outside.
“If it wasn’t for them, you would not be getting this plea deal. You deserve more than life in prison,” the mother said. “I don’t care if it takes until the day I die, our family will return to our normal lives. This will not destroy my family, but make us stronger.”
The grandmother of the 10-year-old Elyria girl read a statement written by the girl’s father.
“That night now affects my everyday life,” she read. “I don’t sleep. I’m a nervous wreck half the time.
“The past year has been hell for my family,” she continued. “Maybe after today she’ll go back to being the girl that she was. My daughter used to be very outgoing and involved, and now she is distant and doesn’t want to be involved in things.”
Both families said their children are in counseling.
During the sentencing, Russo acknowledged she could impose a longer prison sentence on Christian had the case gone to trial, but Christian showed “a small amount of mercy” in agreeing to the deal and pleading guilty.
“The psychological harm that you have done to these people will far outlast the physical contact,” Russo said. “Many years ago, I remember someone telling me that there are some things that we’re not meant to understand and shouldn’t try, and your actions fall into that category for me. I don’t think I ever want to understand why you did what you did.”
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