SPENCER, Ind. -- The man accused of abducting, raping and murdering a 1-year-old Owen County girl last year will spend decades in prison for the crime -- but will not face life without parole.
Kyle Parker, 23, reached a deal with prosecutors to enter guilty pleas on one count each of murder and kidnapping for his role in the death of 1-year-old Shaylyn Ammerman in March 2016. Because he didn't plead guilty to a sex offense, Parker won't have to register as a sex offender.
Shaylyn went missing from her father's home overnight, sparking an intense manhunt. When her body was finally found, apparently dumped miles away near the bank of a river, the small community of Spencer was outraged.
When police announced Parker, a friend of Shaylyn's family, had been arrested for her murder, many called for prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
But a plea deal reached earlier this month and accepted Monday by an Owen County judge will spare Parker a capital sentence.
Instead, he will serve 60 years in prison. With good behavior, that time could eventually drop to 45 years. Parker would be 68 years old by the time he could conceivably first be eligible for release.
Owen County Prosecutor Don VanDerMoere made it clear he thought the case could be jeopardized in front of a jury because of problems with witnesses, specifically their "multiple, impeachable offenses" and evidence of searches for violent, pornographic images on their electronic devices.
Murder in a small town
The charges against Kyle Parker were almost unthinkable.
For 36 hours, Owen County authorities had mounted a frantic search for 1-year-old Shaylyn Ammerman, who had disappeared from her crib in the early morning hours of March 23, 2016.
Her father, Justin Ammerman, told police he'd last seen her around 1 or 2 a.m., when he'd kissed her goodnight after an evening of drinking with his brother and a family friend.
Above: Shaylyn Ammerman's father, Justin Ammerman, at a candelight vigil for her in Spencer, Indiana.
“Last time I saw Shaylyn was in her bed and I leaned down and I said, ‘Daddy loves you’ and gave her a kiss and hug good night,'" Ammerman said.
In her owl-print, zip-up sleeper and Winnie the Pooh blanket, Ammerman thought his only daughter was safe for the night; Shaylyn was too young to get out of her crib on her own.
A day-and-a-half later – after her body was found lying near the banks of the White River, miles away, in a rural area near Gosport, Indiana – police officially declared 1-year-old Shaylyn Ammerman a homicide victim.
At the time of the announcement, the Ammerman's family friend, Kyle Parker, was already behind bars. He would, in short order, be accused of abducting Shaylyn from her father's home, brutally sexually assaulting her and then strangling her to death.
According to Parker's stepfather, Mike Patton, the 22-year-old confided in him that he had burned Shaylyn's clothes – her own-print sleeper and her pacifier – in an effort to hide his tracks.
In a probable cause affidavit, Owen County Prosecutors say Parker confessed his role in Shaylyn's death to his stepfather – who then contacted police with the revelations.
"Mike [Patton] stated when he spoke to Kyle on 3-24-16 during a smoke break from the interview, Kyle informed him that the police would have the truth once they found Shaylyn's body and the DNA with it," the affidavit says. "Mike stated he knew right then that Kyle had taken Shaylyn and raped and killed her."
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A subsequent autopsy determined Shaylyn had died of asphyxiation – and that she had numerous, "very apparent injuries" sustained in a sexual assault. Dr. Donna Stewart, who specializes in pediatric autopsies at the Kentucky Medical Examiner's Office in Louisville, told investigators this was "the worst case of sexual trauma" she had seen in her career.
Above: Kyle Parker, 22
Facing life in prison – or even the death penalty – Parker told his stepfather he intended to kill himself.
He was placed under suicide watch – separated from the rest of the jail population in a padded cell. Dressed in a suicide gown, Parker had access only to paperback books and jail staff, who checked in on him every 15 minutes.
“We have him under constant camera surveillance and perform 15-minute checks which include talking to and physically seeing him, checking to make sure he is alive and breathing,” Owen County Jail Commander Marjie Ryan said at the time.
In September 2016, prosecutors announced they would seek life without parole for Parker, then facing charges ranging from child molestation and kidnapping to rape and murder.
Then, in February, prosecutors indicated they had reached a plea deal with Parker. If accepted, the deal would mean 60 years in prison – but not life without parole.
Word of the plea deal came as a surprise to at least one person: Shaylyn's mother, Jessica Stewart.
"Every day I have images in my head of what that night was like for her, and there is nothing that he could say or do to ever make me forgive him," Stewart said.
On Monday, before hearing whether the judge would accept the plea deal, Stewart offered only a few words to Parker.
"You took my loving, sweet and beautiful daughter away from me, her brother, her dad and everyone who loves her," Stewart said. "I hope you live with your guilt and it torments you for the rest of your life."