A North Carolina man was sentenced on Thursday to 80 to 110 years in prison for kidnapping a 6-year-old girl, sexually assaulting her and chaining her to a tree in the woods, PEOPLE confirms.
Douglas Nelson Edwards, 47, was found guilty on Wednesday of attempted murder, kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, statutory sex offense and taking indecent liberties with a minor. Edwards’ attorney could not be reached for comment.
“It was a really bad case,” New Hanover County, North Carolina, District Attorney Ben David tells PEOPLE. “It was one of the worst I have seen in 20 years as a prosecutor.”
Edwards, a registered sex offender, is now set to return to prison, where he already served 16 years for first-degree sexual offense and indecent liberties with a minor, for kidnapping the first-grader from outside her home around 4:45 p.m. on Sept. 14, 2016.
David says Edwards was hunting children when he came across the victim and her sister, who were playing outside the Royal Palms mobile home park in Wilmington, North Carolina. Their mother had been watching the girls and had just stepped inside to help her 9-year-old son with homework when Edwards pounced, according to David.
“He was there for four minutes,” the prosecutor says. “He was like the lion on the Serengeti. He was waiting for the little baby to be separated.”
“Predators go after the weakest in the herd and they go after the kid with autism,” David says, “and in this case it was the kid with a language barrier and her parents were here illegally.”
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David says that Edwards initially chased after the girl’s 4-year-old sister, but “she was faster and got to the stairs first. The victim was behind her and he got her.”
David says Edwards fled with the girl on his moped and an AMBER Alert was issued immediately after her mother called 911.
Edwards was pulled over within 45 minutes of the 911 call but was let go because of the initial description, which was mistranslated from the sister’s account (in Spanish) that he was wearing black, David says. He was taken into custody and questioned again at 6 p.m. but was released.
“We didn’t arrest him that night because we thought he would go back to where she was,” David explains. “He didn’t. He went right to sleep. We looked through the night.”
A break in the case came the following morning, at 7:30 a.m., when a bus driver called police to report that she had seen Edwards struggling with a little girl on a moped the night before.
Law enforcement took a bloodhound to where the bus driver saw Edwards and they searched the surrounding woods. The girl was found lying on the ground at 9 a.m. about 460 feet from the road, where a chain had been double-wrapped around her neck, binding her to a scrub oak. The chain was individually padlocked and wrapped around the tree and padlocked with a second lock.
“She had been on the tree for 17 hours,” David says. “The officer who first got to the tree thought he was going up to a dead body. Just as he got to her she whipped her little head around and said, ‘Are you here to take me to my mama?’ ”
“We know from cell phone records he was in her presence for 32 minutes total,” David says. “We thought we were going into a body recovery in the woods. It stunned us when she was alive.”
The padlock keys, David says, were found in Edwards’ pocket.
The Kidnapper Speaks
At his trial, Edwards reportedly told jurors that he got off early from work at a construction site the day of the abduction because he didn’t feel well and had no memory of taking the girl.
“The next thing I remember is being in a neighborhood I had never been in before and there was a girl on my moped,” he testified, according to local TV station WECT.
“It scared me that I had a kid on my moped and I didn’t know where she came from,” he said.
Edwards denied molesting the girl and claimed he only kissed her forehead to quiet her down and chained her to the tree for her own protection. He claimed he then went to his mother’s home to figure out his next plan and always planned to release the girl.
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David still doesn’t buy that defense.
“I think he was going to come back and sexually assault her and kill her,” he says. “He has been convicted before and spent nearly 20 years in prison and I don’t believe he was going to leave a witness.”
“She was born here in Wilmington,” he adds. “I said in closing this family came in search of the American dream and what they were given by Edwards is every parent’s worst nightmare.
“He deprived her of her liberty and almost cost her her life. There are real scars that remain. She is painfully shy in public, she hides from strangers and she doesn’t play outside anymore.”