The man accused of molesting, kidnapping and strangling a 3-year-old Yreka girl found wandering naked on an icy forest road in 2009 is facing life in prison after being found guilty Monday on all nine charges related to the case by a Siskiyou County jury.
Kody Lee Kaplon, 25, was found guilty of attempted first-degree murder, kidnapping with special circumstances that includes inflicting great bodily harm, two counts of lewd acts on a child, sexual intercourse with a child younger than 10, two counts of oral copulation with a child younger than 10, child abuse and child endangering, said Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus.
"He strangled her, left her for dead and walked away," Andrus said, adding Kaplon could be facing between 91 years to life in prison.
Kaplon kidnapped the victim from her parents' home on March 2, 2009, police said. Drunk and high on methamphetamine, the man had left a party at about 3 a.m., only to return to the apartment building at 4:30 a.m. Kaplon then snuck into the little girl's bedroom and molested the 30-pound child, the DA said.
"When she cried out, he grabbed her and ran," Andrus said.
Awakened by her daughter's cries, the child's mother watched in horror as Kaplon drove away in his 1992 Pontiac Grand Am. She then immediately called police, he said.
An Amber Alert was issued in three states as officers from California, Oregon and Nevada scrambled to find the missing girl.
Kaplon, who lived in Hornbrook, a small town along Interstate 5 just south of the Oregon/California state line, drove his victim to a remote area in the mountains west of Yreka. After his vehicle became stuck on the muddy trails, Kaplon strangled the little girl to unconsciousness, Andrus said.
Kaplon then hiked to the home of an acquaintance, said he'd overturned his car and needed a lift home. Once home, Kaplon called police about the Amber Alert and denied any involvement with the missing child, Andrus said.
Kaplon was still on the telephone with authorities when police surrounded his home. Kaplon stepped outside and was taken into custody, he said.
Andrus said the break came when Kaplon mentioned the man who'd given him a ride back to town. It was a key tip that helped saved the child, he added.
Police raced to the area, and with the help of local residents, pinpointed their search, said Yreka Police Chief Brian Bowles.
Three adult miners and one juvenile searched the Hawkinsville area, a remote area 15 miles northwest of Yreka. Maneuvering their vehicle over treacherous roads, the miners found Kaplon's Pontiac and searched the trunk for her body. Then they continued to search on foot, he said.
"They followed her little, bare footsteps up a hill," Andrus said. "She was shaking, shivering and naked except for her little wet shirt."
The miner who found the little girl offered emotional trial testimony about discovering the terrified, mud-covered child hiding behind a tiny bush. There were cougar tracks near her footprints, said Bowles.
"We're talking big mountain lion tracks, back and forth in the area," he said.
Her rescuers scooped her up and drove back down the forest roads until they crossed paths with a California Highway Patrol officer. He took the child to Fairchild Medical Center in Yreka, Andrus said.
Tucked into a blanket and curled into a fetal position, the preschooler gave investigators a detailed account of the abuse and the attack, Andrus and Bowles said.
"She said (Kaplon) told her, 'This is your new home,' as he was burying her. She managed to dig herself out," Bowles said.
Three years later, the now 6-year-old girl faced down her attacker while testifying at trial.
"He was looking at her, and she looked right back at him," Bowles said. "We're all just grateful she is alive. This could have had a very tragic ending."
Kaplon is set to be sentenced on Oct. 13, Bowles said.
"He is most likely never going to see a parole board, let alone freedom," Andrus said.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email email@example.com.