The man who brought a baby into the Lolo National Forest and buried him beneath sticks and twigs was sentenced on Tuesday to 30 years in state prison, with 10 suspended.
Francis Crowley, 33, wept openly and often during the sentencing hearing, swearing he never meant to hurt the child and thanking law enforcement for finding the baby after he abandoned the 5-month-old in the 2 million-acre forest on July 7. The baby spent nine hours in the woods on a 46-degree night before law enforcement found him.
Emotions were palpable in the courtroom on Tuesday. Crowley dropped his forehead onto the defendant's table and cursed out loud as the prosecutor showed a video of the route, a long winding path through an area heavily congested with trees, law enforcement traveled from Highway 12 to find the child.
Crowley broke into an angry and tearful rant toward Judge Karen Townsend at the end of the hearing, calling himself a "loser" who couldn't properly care for the child but still loved him.
"No matter what you think about me, that kid was my life," he said between sobs. "And I don't know what the [explitive] I was doing. I don't know why I went out there. I don't know why I kept driving."
In the defense's sentencing recommendation, Crowley's attorney asked for a sentence in rehabilitation. Townsend said, in light of 13 previous felony convictions, Crowley had been offered several treatment routes before, and turned them down or refused to participate; why would this time be different?
Crowley unraveled again.
"I spent my entire life locked up and high on drugs,” he said, nearly bellowing at the judge. “The ride over here I was looking at people in the streets and I could see people sitting there that I knew were high. I could see them and put myself in their situation, they weren’t smiling, they weren’t happy. And I could see people in the car next to me and I wondered what the life they had was like. This has completely changed my life.
"It doesn't matter what sentence I get," he said. "It's done. I need help though."
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The two law enforcement officers who recovered the baby were the only ones to testify Tuesday. U.S. Forest Service officer Nick Scholz and Missoula County Sheriff's Deputy Ross Jessop told the story of how they landed the call and how they saved that baby's life. Scholz was at home for his wife's birthday that night; Some time earlier, Jessop had hit the scene with his canine and began working on finding Crowley, who had disappeared off into the woods before anyone even knew a baby was missing. It seemed clear the baby had been facedown the entire span before Jessop and Scholz found him; the boy was spitting out dirt and twigs en route to the hospital, Jessop said.
Speaking a bit out of turn, Crowley thanked Scholz for finding the baby as Scholz was testifying. The next question Scholz was asked was about how the case had impacted him.
"It's impacted me and I didn't know that someone could do this to a small child," Scholz responded.
Jessop, meanwhile, was much more direct from the stand in answering the same question.
"Francis, I want to tell you when I was stepping over that pile of debris, with a size nine-and-a-half inch boot, we didn't know where [the baby] was," Jessop said. "My right foot was about to crush [the child's] skull into the mud even further, he was face down.
"Everything that night should have killed that baby," Jessop said. "I gave away my boots that I just bought weeks prior to this call, because every time I laced up that boot I saw [the child's] face. That's the kind of call it was."
Crowley was high on methamphetamine, amphetamine and bath salts at the time he took the child into the woods. The baby also tested positive for drugs when authorities tested a hair follicle.
Crowley took a plea deal earlier this year, pleading guilty to assault on a minor, criminal endangerment and child criminal endangerment. He received 10 years in state prison on all three counts, the maximum for each count, suspending all 10 years on the third count. Another charge, endangering the welfare of a child, was dismissed with the plea agreement.