A 17-year-old fascinated with crime scene forensics and mortuary science has been arrested and charged with the kidnapping and killing of a ten-year-old girl who was last seen walking to school. After a week-long pursuit of a suspect in the case that was haunting parents in suburban Denver, Colorado, Austin Reed Sigg turned himself in to the police.
Sigg has been charged with 19 counts, including first-degree murder after deliberation, three counts of felony murder, sexual assault on a child, second-degree kidnapping and robbery, as well as attempted murder, attempted kidnapping and attempted sexual assault related to the park jogger.
The Jefferson County District Attorney added counts 18 and 19 — for sexual assault and an enhancement for a crime of violence — on Dec. 10 2012.
The seriousness of these charges cannot be overstated. A lot has been said in the media about Sigg being tried in juvenile court and “getting off easy.” Charges of this nature, with a 17-year-old defendant, will almost certainly be heard in the adult court, not the juvenile court.
Sigg faces forty years in prison for these charges. He is not eligible for the death penalty or for life in prison, due to recent United States Supreme Court cases which decided that those penalties are cruel and unusual punishment for minors.
The walk to her elementary school was short, just a few minutes. It was an easy, safe journey for the blond-haired ten-year-old with the pink and purple eyeglasses.
On the early autumn morning of October 5, 2012, Jessica Ridgeway was not present at roll call. Her fifth grade teacher called the child’s mother, Sarah Ridgeway, to let her know that Jessica had not yet arrived at school.
Jessica’s mother missed the call. She was asleep following a late-night shift, and she did not get the message that her daughter went missing before school for eight hours.
Two days later, police found Jessica’s backpack about six miles away from her home. On October 10, they found young Jessica’s dead body and began their homicide investigation.
The police first turned their suspicions on Jessica’s parents, but they were soon cleared. The manhunt continued, and the community outrage over Jessica’s murder reached a fever pitch.
In the middle of this tumult, Mindy Sigg was faced with a very difficult decision.
Mindy Sigg knew her son, Austin Reed Sigg, 17, was somehow involved in Jessica’s disappearance. The Siggs lived close to the Ridgeway home. Austin had once attended Jessica’s elementary school.
“I made the phone call, and he turned himself in,” Mindy Sigg told the Associated press. “That’s all I have to say.”
Austin Reed Sigg was arrested on October 23. He allegedly consented to be interrogated by investigators for six hours. In that time, law enforcement officials said, he confessed to the abduction and killing of ten-year-old Jessica Ridgeway.
Prosecutors have also stated that they have DNA evidence positively linking Sigg to the crime, specifically, “DNA remnants” in the crawl space of the Sigg home.
As alleged in court documents filed by the district attorney in Jefferson County, Colorado, Jessica was kidnapped by Austin Reed Sigg, 17, who sexually assaulted the child before killing her. The charges also accuse Sigg of the attempted murder and assault of a jogger in a local park on Memorial Day.
High school friends and neighbors of Austin Sigg described him as “a total sweetheart,” and described a teenager who was well-liked and “very smart.” He left high school to get his GED and begin taking college classes.
At Arapahoe Community College, he left a less-favorable impression on his classmates. He wanted to study mortuary science and crime scene investigations and seemed “creepy,” according to Jacqueline Miller, who was in his Psychology 101 class.
Austin Sigg pleaded guilty October 1 to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing Jessica Ridgeway, just two days before his trial was scheduled to begin. He also pleaded guilty to a May 2012 attack on a 22-year-old jogger at a park near Ketner Lake in Westminster.
A first-degree murder plea carries a sentence of 40 years in prison before Sigg is eligible for parole. He is not eligible for the death penalty because he was 17-years-old at the time of the offense.
Sigg plead guilty to all charges without a single concession, against the advice of his attorneys.
Jessica Ridgeway: The cheerful ten-year-old who loved math and was easily recognized for her pink and purple glasses is the victim in this case. Her favorite color was purple, and her supporters often wear purple in court.
Austin Reed Sigg: The 17-year-old mortuary science student who stands accused of killing Jessica Ridgeway. He also showed an aptitude for crime scene work, having won a second-place award in a forensics competition in high school.
Mindy Sigg: Austin Sigg’s mother, who said she “made the phone call,” allowing Austin Sigg to turn himself in. Sigg’s father, Rob Sigg, said that his ex-wife’s choice to alert the police to her son’s involvement was a “courageous act . . . unimaginably painful for any parent.”
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This is every parent’s worst nightmare. This chilling case is incredibly painful for everyone involved – certainly the Ridgeway family and the friends who knew and loved the sweet little girl who was brutalized and killed in the worst possible way – but also for the Sigg parents, who came to terms with the fact that their son was a killer and then turned him in.
But as the families come to terms with their grief over these terrible crimes, for the lawyers, this case has only just begun.
One of the first things that will happen is that Sigg’s attorneys will move that he be transferred to juvenile court. That motion will almost certainly be denied. Sigg technically was a minor when the crime was committed, but he was only a few days from turning 18. Any judge will decide that he’s “close enough,” based on the gruesome nature of his alleged crimes. Children much younger than he are tried as adults for homicides.
Once he is firmly in adult court, the defense can work on rebuttals to the charges. They may argue that his confession cannot come into court because he was a juvenile and not represented by counsel. If the police can show that Sigg understood what he was doing when he waived his right to a lawyer or to having a parent present for his confession, those statements will still probably be admissible in court.
The defense is, in all likelihood, evaluating their client’s mental health as well. Generally, child predators have serious mental health problems, and the defense may be able to use that to soften the prosecutorial blow.
It is important to understand, however, that due to recent Supreme Court cases, Sigg will not receive either the death penalty or life in prison. The Supreme Court of the United States found that those punishments were “cruel and unusual” for minors. Part of their reasoning was that minors have a greater capacity for rehabilitation because their brains are not yet fully formed at the time of the offense, and their actions are often driven by impulse as opposed to cold calculation.
It’s hard to see Sigg in that light – as the impressionable, impulsive teen who did not know how evil his actions were. This is the difficult part of applying criminal law to teenagers: no two teens are alike. Some are intelligent and privileged, like Sigg, while others come from homes characterized by drugs and domestic abuse. The juvenile from the latter category might not understand the wrongfulness of his crime, but from our perspective, it certainly seems like Sigg knew precisely what he was doing.