In a 30-minute hearing void of almost all emotion, Michael L. Plumadore was sent to the Indiana Department of Correction for the rest of his life.
Before Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck accepted the plea agreement, where Plumadore admitted to bludgeoning to death, then dismembering his 9-year-old neighbor Aliahna Lemmon, Plumadore, 39, offered an apology.
Before that, a cousin spoke on behalf of Aliahna’s family, making a brief statement decrying Plumadore’s “villainous and vile” act.
But much of the hearing was procedural.
Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards read the docket number into the record. Plumadore sat between his court-appointed attorneys Mark Thoma and Anthony Churchward. Churchward asked Surbeck to accept the plea.
Richards asked Surbeck to accept the plea, saying that the disappearance and grisly murder of Aliahna was among the worst things she’d seen in 31 years as a prosecutor.
The case, she said, was a “reminder of how inhumane” people can be to one another.
As she spoke, Plumadore looked away, his eyes locked on some spot on the floor between Richards and the judge.
“I’m not sure I’ve seen a more horrific crime against a more innocent victim,” Richards said, adding the case affected the community.
“The community should have been celebrating Christmas instead of looking for a little girl,” she said.
Richards said she did not seek the death penalty against Plumadore at the request of Aliahna’s family.
“It needs to be over and they need the opportunity to move on,” Richards said. “That is what the little girl’s family wants.”
It was a relatively quiet ending to a case that grieved a community and drew national attention when the diminutive girl went missing days before Christmas.
Aliahna’s mother reported her missing Dec. 23. She left the girl and her sisters in the care of Plumadore, a trusted family friend and neighbor who lived in the same mobile home park off North Clinton.
Aliahna’s mother told police she last saw her daughter Dec. 20. Plumadore said he last saw her the morning of Dec. 23. Police, firefighters and others searched for days, and then on Dec. 26, Plumadore admitted he killed her Dec. 22.
He said he bashed her repeatedly in the head with a brick while she stood on the stoop outside his mobile home, according to court records.
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.
Police found her exactly where he said they would.
In May, Plumadore pleaded guilty to murder, abuse of a corpse, removing the body from the scene of a violent or suspicious death and to being a habitual offender.
The plea agreement with prosecutors spared him the death penalty. It also called for three years in prison on the charges related to the dismemberment of Aliahna’s body, as well as 30 years for being a habitual offender. He has prior convictions for battery and vehicle theft in Florida, as well as forgery in Indiana.
Elizabeth Sepponen, a cousin of Aliahna’s mother, said Plumadore’s actions put the family under a microscope and forever tied the memory of a little girl to something evil.
“You betrayed this entire community,” Sepponen said. “You put a rift in Fort Wayne.”
Plumadore seemed reluctant to make eye contact with Sepponen as she spoke.
“You tied Aliahna to something evil and not something good,” she said. “God can forgive you, but I personally have to work on that.”
Reading from a prepared statement, Plumadore apologized, saying there were no words available to say how remorseful he was.
“I am truly sorry for all the pain and suffering I caused,” he said. “I hope in time people will begin to heal from all the harm I’ve caused.”
Judge Surbeck accepted the plea agreement, and found the state had met the legal requirements to seek the death penalty or a sentence of life without parole – specifically by proving that the victim was under the age of 12 and the dismemberment of her body.
As they have after every hearing and court appearance for Plumadore, Aliahna’s family hustled out of the courthouse, declining to comment.
After the hearing, Churchward said Plumadore did not want to go through a trial and had accepted responsibility since their first meeting.
“The first goal of a defense attorney in a death penalty case is to save the client’s life,” he said. “That was accomplished.”
Richards said the death penalty was an option in the beginning. But the victims’ wishes were not to drag out the matter, she said.
Richards cited the case of Joseph Corcoran, sentenced to death in 1999 for multiple murders and still awaiting the conclusion of his federal appeals.
“They needed finality,” she said of Aliahna’s family, adding additional hearings in the case are just ways to open up the original wound.
And there’s always the danger of having something happen on an appeal.
“You have to be prepared at any given time to do the whole thing all over again,” she said. “The death penalty really has issues.”
Richards also said she understands the community’s desire to know why the crimes occurred, saying the case was on par with the 2005 case of Simon Rios – who admitted to killing his entire family in Fort Wayne after he abducted a classmate of his daughter, sexually assaulted her and killed her in Delaware County.
“People often think they’re going to get in (to court) and hear a confession or motivation as to ‘why,’ ” Richards said. “I’d like to know why.”