July 12, 2013 Updated: July 12, 2013 at 2:25 pm
Nearly two years after she was dragged from a Colorado Springs bus stop and brutally raped by a stranger, a teenage girl on Friday welcomed a long-awaited source of comfort.
The man she says "practically destroyed (her) life" will never again be free.
"He's not ever going to be able to hurt anybody else," the girl said Friday after an emotionally wrenching sentencing hearing in which her attacker - convicted rapist and nine-time prior felon Leonard Wayne Palmer - was sentenced to 224 years-to-life in prison.
Colorado's "indeterminate" sentencing for sex offenders means the chance of Palmer being released is "non-existent," his attorney, Cynthia McKedy, said in court.
According to prosecutors, Palmer, 24, had escaped a jail in Epps, La., with a fellow inmate only days before the Oct. 25, 2011, attack. A guard at the West Carroll Detention Center slipped one of them a key, and the inmates escaped through a hole in the fence.
On the run in Colorado Springs, Palmer left a roadside motel on Nevada Avenue, intercepted the then-12-year-old on her morning walk to the bus stop on East Brookside Street, and, after trying to get her to follow him to a convenience store, dragged her by the arms into an alley. There, she was forced to the ground by the stranger in sunglasses, punched in the face and sexually assaulted while pleading to be allowed to catch her bus.
She testified at trial that after her assailant let her go, she grabbed her backpack, ran home and reported the assault - commencing a two-year ordeal in which her middle-school years were consumed by tracking Palmer's court appearances and by efforts to regain a sense of normalcy.
With a DNA match to Palmer, his partial confession to police, and the girl's unwavering account of her ordeal, Palmer was convicted at an April trial on charges of rape, kidnapping and child enticement. His triple-digit sentence was partly the result of sentence enhancers stemming from his prior offenses, which include burglary, theft, forgery and previous escapes.
Palmer racked up most of his felony convictions in Louisiana during a three-year period beginning in 2007, according to prosecutors.
During Friday's hearing, the girl approached a podium in court but had a victim's advocate read her written statement. It detailed her psychiatric treatment and her lingering fear of walking on the street or going on shopping trips to the mall with friends.
After the attack, her grades dropped, and she struggled with her therapists to find the right combination of medications to combat her lingering anxiety and depression. It's a daily battle.
"I feel like I will never be able to be myself again, or go out and be a normal teenager," she said in the letter.
In handing down sentence, 4th Judicial District Judge Timothy J. Schutz told Palmer that his crime touched the community and terrified parents and grandparents across the region, bringing their worst fears into vivid reality.
Fighting tears, the judge praised the victim's "remarkable courage" and turned philosophical in telling her that despite Palmer's attack, "there are certain things that can only be given, and can't be taken.
"There are aspects of yourself that nobody can take, and these remain free for you to give," Schutz said, pausing frequently to collect himself as the girl and her supporters wept in the gallery.
Prosecutors Chris Sutton and Andrew Reitman joined the court in praising the girl for her strength - and for her assistance in seeking justice.
"We're lucky we had such an articulate, intelligent victim," said Reitman, noting that her "utterly consistent statements" - together with the DNA match and taped confession - helped guide the jury toward speedy guilty verdicts.
Said Reitman: "We never had any doubts about what we were supposed to be doing."