Calling the crime a parent's worst nightmare, a judge sent a 23-year-old Lincoln man to prison for 89 to 99 years Wednesday for snatching an 8-year-old girl from her bed as she slept, tying her up and sexually assaulting her.
"Forgive me if I don't put a lot of faith in anything other than locking you up for as long as I can to protect every other little girl in this community from you until you're unable ... to be in a position to assault anyone ever again," Lancaster County District Judge Lori Maret told Cody Riddle.
Riddle, who faced 20 years to life in prison for first-degree sexual assault of a child, will have to serve about 50 years before he's eligible for parole.
Police say early Aug. 27, 2015, he entered a home through an open garage to steal things, saw the girl, picked her up and took her to his family's nearby garage, bound her, sexually assaulted her and threatened to kill her or her family if she told anyone.
After Riddle let her go, the girl told her parents, who called police. Riddle was arrested later that day.
In October, he pleaded no contest in a deal with prosecutors, who dropped a kidnapping charge that would have meant a life sentence.
In a letter to the judge, Riddle said he was "regretful for what I did to the victim and her family," Chief Deputy Lancaster County Public Defender Paul Cooney said at Wednesday's sentencing.
He said the court must consider the nature and circumstances of the offense, but it also must consider the "history, character and condition of Riddle in fashioning a fair and just sentence."
"Consider that Cody Riddle has a well-documented, longstanding history of major mental illness, bipolar disorder specifically," Cooney asked.
Riddle has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and autism spectrum disorder, was in special-education classes in school and in juvenile court from age 10 to 19, and has an IQ that has tested in the range of 60s to 70s.
Cooney said Riddle was a ward of the state until he aged out at 19. He was discharged to his family's home in Lincoln from the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Kearney just before his birthday, and the state terminated all services to help stabilize him, leaving Riddle and his family without any support.
The sex assault happened about 15 months later, he said.
After Riddle's arrest, his parents told the Journal Star they tried to get help preparing their son for living in the community as an adult but were stymied by a state mental health system that had no safety net for people aging out of the juvenile justice system.
"Here I sit with the frustration from hell on this deal and a little 8-year-old girl gets hurt because of it," Andy Riddle said in 2015.
Wednesday, he and his wife watched from the back row as Cooney, then Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Amy Goodro, made their sentencing arguments.
While Riddle has a long history of mental health issues, Goodro said, he was given numerous opportunities, services and placements to address those issues.
"Instead of taking full advantage of those options, he continued to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol," Goodro said.
She said Riddle used marijuana, K2 and alcohol daily, then began using pills and cough syrup. Goodro said he sold drugs, stole from his family and used Social Security disability income money on drugs.
Goodro said Riddle was high and drunk when the incident happened.
She took issue with him asking in a letter for the judge to give him a second chance.
"The victim in this case, she doesn't get a second chance. She doesn't get to go back to the same girl that she was ... before this happened to her," Goodro said.
Maret said what Riddle did was every parent's worst nightmare and she didn't know what more could have been done to have protected her that night.
"What I do know is that the system didn't do what it needed to do to protect her from someone like you," she said.
But Maret said she didn't put a lot of fault on the system, because there was nothing to indicate, before that night, that Riddle was a threat to sexually assault someone.
The victim's family wasn't in the courtroom. Reached after sentencing, the girl's father declined to comment.