Jefferson County District Court Chief Judge Stephen Munsinger sentenced 18-year-old Austin Sigg to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 40 years, plus an additional 86 years for the kidnapping and murder of Jessica Ridgeway.
Although Sigg is eligible for parole, due to the sentencing of the 14 other counts, Sigg will live the rest of his life behind bars.
“I can’t emphasize enough how this crime affected the court, the community and the families,” Munsinger said on Tuesday. “Why an intelligent young man with a good family who loves him, decided to kidnap and kill a little girl is still a mystery. But evil is real and present in our community.”
The sentencing came after one and half days of testimony and comments from Jessica Ridgeway’s family. After the conclusion, District Attorney Pete Weir said he was pleased with the outcome and thought the judge’s sentence was thoughtful and appropriate. He said with Sigg behind bars, he will never have the opportunity to prey on a member of the community, and although justice has been served for Jessica Ridgeway, the damage and loss from the heinous crime remains.
“We hope for some closure for the families. We know the legal process can’t solve all the pain and the loss,” Weir said. “This sentencing can restore the confidence lost in our community.”
Jessica’s disappearance on Oct. 5, 2012 prompted a massive volunteer search for the 10-year-old girl and a collaborative effort from 75 law enforcement agencies to find and later solve the crime. After her body was found days later, the search turned into a communitywide commitment to bring justice to Jessica.
Mike Rankin, FBI assistant special agent, said the case was one of the most significant illustrations of collaboration among law enforcement agencies that he’s even seen.
“Westminster Police Chief Lee Birk and his staff are second to none,” he said.
Leading up to the judge’s decision was testimony from Anna Salter, a clinical psychologist. She’s worked with violent crime offenders for many years and has a master’s degree in child study. She did not interview Sigg personally, but did review reports and interviews between Sigg and law enforcement.
After spending hours on the case, she described Sigg as a sadist with psychopathic characteristics due to the nature of the crime and his actions leading up to the murder, including viewing child pornography and videos of body dismemberment.
“In an interview Austin said the moment Jessica Ridgeway was in the car he knew she was dead. My opinion is that he already planned to kill her and planned the whole thing,” Salter said. “He only felt remorseful after he realized he would be caught and turned himself in because he wanted to make it easier on his mom and the Ridgeway family.”
Monday’s hearing also included comments from many of Jessica’s family members including her grandmother, aunt, great-aunt and great-grandmother as well as a short statement from Sarah Ridgeway, her mother.
Each person who spoke to the judge expressed feelings of loss and urged Munsinger to seek the maximum penalty to the crime.
Rebecca Ridgeway, Jessica’s aunt, described Jessica as her “mini-me and her daughter from another mother.” She said Jessica was her life, and it was a privilege watching her grow.
“Jessica was a silly, curious, helpful and kind little girl,” Rebecca Ridgeway said. “I choose to remember the good times, not what happened to her. And I know in my heart, justice for Jessica will be served.”
Sarah Ridgeway chose not to address the case or the crime. She simply said, “I am not saying anything because the defendant doesn’t deserve to hear how this has affected me emotionally. I will not remember him after I walk out these doors, I’ll only remember Jessica and her legacy.”
During the sentencing hearing Sigg chose not to make a statement to the judge, and his family members present also did not approach the judge.
At the end of Tuesday’s hearing, Munsinger ordered Sigg back to prison “for the rest of his natural life.” He quoted Sigg in an effort to understand why Sigg murdered an innocent child saying, “I’m a monster for what I’ve done.”