A suspect in the kidnapping of a 4-year-old Montana girl from a Wolf Point playground was charged in tribal court on March 1.
John William Lieba II pleaded not guilty for charges of felony kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault of a child and attempted murder in Fort Peck Tribal Court, reports KTVQ.
According to a criminal complaint filed by Fort Peck Chief Prosecutor Adrienne Weinberger, Lieba, 20, is accused of abducting the girl from the park on the night of Feb. 26 and holding her against her will “for a significant period of time.”
Prosecutors say he also sexually assaulted the 4-year-old and attempted to strangle her to death.
After being identified by witnesses to the kidnapping, Lieba was arrested while driving around Wolf Point on Feb. 27, reports the Daily Mail.
The FBI is investigating the case in coordination with the Fort Peck Tribal Police and Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office. According to the FBI, the girl was found a day later at an unidentified location about 6 miles from the kidnapping site.
The Fort Peck Reservation consists of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes and has a population of roughly 10,000. Both Lieba and the 4-year-old victim are Native Americans, although it is unclear if the suspect knew the victim. Roosevelt County spokesman Lee Allmer stated they are not related, according to Daily Mail.
The federal government has control over many crimes on reservations. Prospective sentences in federal court are generally harsher than in tribal court and the case is expected to receive federal charges, says FBI Special Agent Todd Palmer.
Judge Marvin Youpee ordered Lieba held without bail. Lieba could face up to nine years in jail and $45,000 in fines if found guilty on all three counts, according to the complaint.
Palmer says the girl was in a safe location but released no further details.
According to a 2013 investigative report by The Atlantic, the U.S. Justice Department did not prosecute 65 percent of rape cases reported on reservations in 2011.
Department records state that 1 in 3 Native American women are raped during their lifetimes, and in 86 percent of those cases, the aggressor is not Native American. Under federal law, tribal authorities lack jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native offenders on reservations.
In February 2014, Congress approved a law proposed by President Barack Obama to allow Native tribes to prosecute some crimes of domestic violence perpetrated by non-Native husbands and boyfriends on reservations, reported The Washington Post. The bill does not cover sexual assaults by non-Natives who are “strangers” to their victims and excludes native women in Alaska.