GREAT FALLS - A district judge sentenced Wilfred Morrisey to life in prison without parole Friday for killing a 9-year-old girl in 1988, ending a more than 17-year ordeal for her family.
"It's an enormous roller coaster that's finally going to stop," said Janine Wall, half sister of Dolana Clark. "We finally have justice for my little sister."
Dolana was last seen riding her bike on Aug. 2, 1988. A hunter found her skull, with a bullet hole in it, in the Little Belt Mountains in the fall of 1989.
Morrisey, 65, a friend of the Clark family, was interviewed after Dolana's disappearance. Friends said Morrisey's demeanor changed dramatically, he severed ties with the Clark family and moved to Illinois a few months later.
Police reopened the case in 2002 and within a month, had interviewed and arrested Morrisey.
During seven hours of police questioning in Westmont, Colo., in 2002, Morrisey first denied he owned a .22-caliber gun - which experts said was the likely murder weapon. Morrisey later said he had owned one, but alternately said he sold it, threw it in a river, tossed it in the garbage or out a car window as he drove down the highway.
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He eventually led officers to the smashed barrel of a .22-caliber rifle buried in his backyard. Detectives say he destroyed the gun after being tipped to the revived investigation.
During the sentencing hearing, Morrisey's attorney, Greg Jackson of Helena, asked District Judge Thomas McKittrick to consider Morrisey's years as a respected Air Force sergeant and good neighbor. He noted that the case against Morrisey was built on circumstantial evidence.
"I did not do this, your honor," Morrisey said. "I did not kill Dolana. I have nothing else to say."
Jackson asked McKittrick to sentence Morrisey to 10 years in prison, the minimum penalty, while prosecutors sought life in prison.
McKittrick added the condition of no parole.
"This is the most egregious offense that one can commit," McKittrick said. "The unlawful taking of a human life, the unlawful taking of the life of a child.
"I do not want another child to be subject to your perversion. I want closure for Dolana Clark's family. I want closure for this community," McKittrick said.