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Plumadore to be sentenced today

Hearing closes case in slaying of Aliahna, 9

Plumadore
Aliahna

What started with a missing person's report at 8:45 p.m. Dec. 23 ends today in Allen Superior Court.

That's when Michael Len Plumadore will be sentenced for the murder of 9-year-old Aliahna Marie Maroney Lemmon.

Plumadore's guilty plea in May to charges of murder, abuse of a corpse and removing a body from the scene of a violent or suspicious death spared him the death penalty.

But if Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck accepts the plea, Plumadore, 39, faces the rest of his life behind bars, without any possibility of ever getting out. Even if Indiana decided to get rid of the sentence of life without parole, Plumadore's status as a habitual offender would put him in prison beyond his natural life.

To qualify for a sentence of life without parole, a person must commit a crime that would also qualify him for the death penalty. In this case, Plumadore is in that category as he admitted to killing a child younger than 12 and then dismembering her body.

For the community, it has been nearly six months to the day since the little girl went missing. While the glare of the national media spotlight waned a bit, in a way, the community still seems to be mourning.

It was the second time in six years the city waited and hoped for the safe return of a child around Christmastime. And as with the disappearance and death of 10-year-old Alejandra Gutierrez in December 2005, there was no happy ending.

Just a court case, a guilty plea, and a sentencing, and still no reason why.

Sad history

When Aliahna first went missing, she had been in Plumadore's care – staying with him in a trailer, along with her two sisters, while her mother recovered from the flu. Plumadore shared the mobile home with Aliahna's grandfather, James E. "Shorty" Lemmon, until the 66-year-old died in December.

According to residents of the Northway mobile home park, Plumadore lived on and off with Lemmon for about four years.

Lemmon was one of more than a dozen registered sex offenders living in the Northway mobile home park on North Clinton Street. While Plumadore himself was not a registered sex offender, he had brushes with the law in the communities where he lived before, including places where Aliahna's family also lived prior to moving to Fort Wayne.

Plumadore was arrested for auto theft in the late 1990s in Dade County, Fla. Florida authorities were looking for him since 2000 after he failed to attend court-ordered anger management classes. He pleaded guilty to battery in 2000 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, charged after he punched a bus driver in the face when the driver refused Plumadore a ride because he had no money, according to the Miami Herald.

Appanouse County, Iowa, court records showed that the parents of a 13-year-old girl filed a restraining order against Plumadore in November 2010, alleging Plumadore sent sexually explicit text messages to the girl as well as photographs of his genitalia.

Aliahna was herself victimized before, according to Appanoose County court records.

In January 2010, Kurtis Allen Kennedy was originally charged with sexual abuse in the second degree. He was accused of partly disrobing the girl, then 7, and touching her for the purpose of self-sexual gratification, according to court documents.

On his Facebook page, since removed by the social networking company, Plumadore had numerous pictures of young girls, including Aliahna and her siblings.

Plumadore has not been accused of sexually abusing Aliahna in any document filed in Allen Superior Court.

Horrible end

But for reasons not ever revealed, Plumadore bludgeoned the 41-pound girl in the head with a brick on the stoop outside the mobile home sometime in the early-morning hours of Dec. 22.

He then took her into the trailer and put the body in trash bags and placed it into the freezer. Later that day, he dismembered it with a hacksaw and put the pieces in various garbage bags and threw them into a large trash bin outside a nearby convenience store.

He told investigators they would find the little girl's head, hands and feet in his freezer, according to court documents.

The grisly discovery came after days of fruitless searching over the Christmas weekend and after Plumadore made statements to The Journal Gazette about how he had no idea what happened to Aliahna.

He said he last saw her asleep in a chair about 6 a.m. Dec. 23 when he left the mobile home to go buy a cigar at the convenience store.

Plumadore said he smoked his cigar and went back to sleep about 6:30 a.m. At 10 a.m., Aliahna's mother called, and Plumadore claimed that's when he noticed the girl was gone. He told police at 8:30 p.m. he talked to her mother again and that's when he learned Aliahna was not with her.

Finally, after at least 36 hours with no known contact with the 4-foot tall child, someone called the police and reported her missing.

Remembering

Aliahna's disappearance captured the attention of not just the community – with volunteers joining in the search with local, state and federal law enforcement and emergency responders – but the national media as well.

The pictures widely circulated – a small girl with a sweet smile in either the silver-striped dress at her grandfather's funeral or her school picture with the cornrow braids in her hair – appeared on national news programs and in newspapers around the world.

Now, six months later, there are still benefit softball games for Aliahna.

Saturday, March 31, was dedicated by Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry as "Always Remember Aliahna Day" at an event on the Allen County Courthouse Green. Those in attendance released balloons in a tribute to innocence lost.

This month, students at Holland Elementary School dedicated a memory garden to the third-grader, complete with reading benches and a half-ton stone monument.

Her former classmates planted a lilac tree in her memory.

Closure

Which makes today's hearing the final chapter.

In most cases, when there's an agreed-upon sentence in a guilty plea, the sentencing hearings are fairly routine. Both sides ask the judge to accept the agreement and give their reasons why they believe the plea agreement is in the best interest of justice.

The judge, who has had a few days or weeks to review the pre-sentence investigation report, will make an official decision on whether to accept the plea. If the judge accepts the guilty plea and the agreement with prosecutors, then the court is bound by the terms and must hand down the sentence as spelled out in the agreement.

In that pre-sentence report, Surbeck should see Plumadore's whole life spelled out – any juvenile arrests, allegations of abuse suffered as a child or whether he came from the perfect family, as well as his own account of what occurred that morning outside his trailer.

If Surbeck accepts the plea agreement, Plumadore will be sentenced to life in prison without parole. But prior to that, he will likely hear from Aliahna's family about the horrific toll the events of that week took on their lives.

Someone may come to speak on Plumadore's behalf, but in every hearing so far, there has been no visible evidence of support for him, no family or friends have appeared on his side of the courtroom. That may leave comment to the lawyers paid by the state to represent him.

Plumadore could also give a statement, perhaps to express remorse or offer explanation.

But if all goes as planned, Surbeck will sentence him to spend the rest of his life behind bars. Plumadore will leave, escorted by a larger number of guards than normal, and the matter of State of Indiana v. Michael L. Plumadore will come to an end.

rgreen@jg.net

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