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Police: Abduction suspect made confession

Say he was ‘remorseful,’ according to court records

A 39-year-old man charged with kidnapping and assaulting a pre-adolescent Cody girl confessed to the crime after his arrest, according to allegations from Montana police contained in court records.

Jesse P. Speer — currently being held in the Park County Detention Center on a $2 million cash-only bond — is facing charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault and using a firearm in the commission of a felony in connection with the Oct. 8 abduction of an 11-year-old Cody girl. A man had lured the girl to his vehicle, then bound her up and took her to the Carter Mountain area where he assaulted and, about four hours after the abduction, released her, according to Cody police. In documents used to support the charges against Speer in Park County, police say they matched the Manhattan, Mont., man and his vehicle to the account of the abduction given by the girl, doing so in part with surveillance camera footage.

The filings in Park County made no mention of any interviews with Jesse Speer, but the Tribune this week obtained a copy of an affidavit from Detective Thomas Pallach of the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office that was used to get a search warrant for Speer’s home and property in Manhattan, Mont., after his arrest. Pallach’s affidavit — a document that is a public record — says that over the course of two interviews with a Bozeman police detective and other law enforcement agents, Speer “ultimately” admitted to taking and assaulting the girl.

Statements attributed to Speer in the affidavit by Detective Pallach allege the suspect gave an account of the crime that was very similar to the one given to the girl — including showing a handgun to the child during the abduction and telling her to “just be quiet” or words to that effect.

“Speer provided information to investigators regarding the incident that only the perpetrator of the crime could know, for example, that a bag had been placed over the victim’s head, that the suspect had driven around and around for a period of time, the nature of how the girl was released, etc.,” Pallach wrote.

Those were details not publicly released until after Speer was arrested and charged. Pallach said he did not participate in the interviews with Speer, but was later briefed on what was said by Bozeman Police Detective Dana McNeil.

“As Speer recounted these events he indicated he did not know why he had done this, was remorseful, and cried,” wrote Pallach. Speer reportedly told investigators where to find his gun and the foam mattress that had been in the back of his vehicle at the time of the abduction.

Gallatin County court records show police seized a foam mat from Speer’s property, along with many other items. Logs of the seized evidence suggest an exhaustive search of Speer’s home, vehicle, garage and camper that included items like a notebook and maps but also swabs of soil, hairs, tape lifts of fibers, tissues and lint from a dryer trap.

Police also seized Speer’s laptop, DVDs, CDs, memory cards, external hard drives and a camera in search of images of child pornography or the girl. The girl had told police she’d seen photos of naked young girls in the vehicle and, according to Pallach’s affidavit, had reported hearing a noise that sounded like a clicking camera while a bag was over her head.

Speer also allegedly told investigators he had a pornography addiction — a statement Pallach said a family member also told the FBI — and had previously viewed child pornography.

Speer is an accomplished nature and landscape photographer and at the beginning of the interview with investigators, he allegedly acknowledged being in the Cody area shooting photos at the time the girl was abducted.

The affidavit indicates investigators may have gotten Speer to confess to the crime by confronting him with a Thule vehicle topper an alert logger found in the Carter Mountain area shortly after the abduction.

Speer initially claimed his vehicle’s Thule topper had been stolen prior to leaving for Cody, Pallach wrote, but investigators pointed out Yellowstone National Park surveillance footage showing his Toyota 4-Runner entering the park on Oct. 7 with the topper attached. Further, Speer reportedly agreed that photos of the recovered topper looked like his.

Speer is alleged to have ultimately told the investigators he removed the topper shortly before assaulting the girl to keep his vehicle from being recognized.

Pallach also wrote there were allegations Speer took steps to remove physical evidence of himself from the girl before letting her go.

Speer’s two children were reportedly taken into protective custody after his arrest, the affidavit says.

A preliminary hearing for Speer, where a judge will determine if there’s enough evidence for the case to proceed, had been set for Oct. 26 but has since been pushed back to Nov. 19. Confessions are admissable as evidence if they are voluntarily given — which includes a general obligation by police to advise a defendant of their right to remain silent before interviewing them. The affidavit does not detail any of the circumstances of the interviews with Speer.

He has not yet entered a plea to the charges.

Editor's note: This version adds that McNeil briefed Pallach on the interviews.

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