Zach Spadt, Townsquare Media

A Natrona County District Court Judge on Thursday sentenced a Casper man to at least 55 years in prison for kidnapping and sexually abusing a 4-year-old girl last July.

Judge Catherine Wilking handed Joshua T. Hicks the sentence during a lengthy hearing that came just one day shy of the event's one-year anniversary. During the hearing, Wilking heard statements from the girl's parents, Hicks's father and Hicks himself.

At most, Hicks could serve 85 years under Wilking's sentence.

Wilking said the case is "every parent's worst nightmare."

According to an affidavit of probable cause, a child born in 2014 was outside playing in the area of SW Wyoming Boulevard and South Coffman Avenue when Hicks allegedly took her on July 3. She was returned to an area near her home about 13 minutes later.

Court documents say that Hicks drove the girl around, exposed himself to her and forced her to touch his genitals.

The affidavit alleges that Hicks told police he fantasizes about young girls and has watched them play on playgrounds at schools on more than 30 different occasions.

Hicks pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping in December.

During Thursday's sentencing hearing, the girl's parents both gave impact statements.

The girl's mother described frantically looking for her child in the 13 minutes she was missing. When the girl returned, she and her mother embraced.

"Our entire life changed that morning," the girl's mother said. "I have never felt so helpless. I will always remember seeing her run to me when she came home.

"She asked me once, 'Was your heart broken into a million pieces, Mom?'"

Natrona County District Attorney Dan Itzen noted the rarity of child abduction in Wyoming.

"We all know stranger danger," Itzen said. "The numbers are extremely low. But about a year ago, the victim really got to experience stranger danger.

"When you come face-to-face with pure evil, the question is, what do you do about that?"

According to the affidavit, Hicks told investigators that he watched child porn and fantasized about sexual acts with 5- and 6-year-old girls. He also reportedly told authorities that he'd observed young girls over 30 times and gratified himself sexually while doing so.

"That, to me, really puts this crime into context. There's clear acceleration of his deviant sexual behavior," Wilking said.

Hicks also would carry condoms in his vehicle in case he saw a young girl, which showed a level of premeditation that was "hard to grasp," Wilking said.

Hicks's only interest in taking the girl was to sexually gratify himself. Once he was finished doing that, he was also done with the girl, prosecutors said.

"That is how Mr. Hicks sees young girls," Wilking said. "They are merely objects for his sexual gratification to be thrown away. That's a big deal."

Hicks's attorney, Don Fuller, said Hicks suffers from pedophilia.

Hicks's father said the same during the hearing: He didn't know that his son was sick until the kidnapping last year.

"I know forgiveness is not an easy thing to offer. I pray you know that my heart grieves with you and for you," Hicks's father said. "A year ago, I found out that my son was sick. It wasn't a normal sickness."

But Wilking said if Hicks knew that he was sick, he had plenty of opportunities to take advantage of mental health services in the Caspe area.

"Without a doubt, Mr. Hicks presents harm to the children of this community," Wilking said. "It's necessary to remove Mr. Hicks from this community."

The girl's mother said that if it hadn't been for the 4-year-old's uncanny intelligence for her age, Hicks may have gotten away with his crime. The girl was able to describe in detail to investigators Hicks vehicle, its contents and the route they took.

Both Itzen and Wilking agreed.

The girl's father said evil entered his household the day Joshua Hicks abducted his daughter.

"Our daughter was abducted from where she felt most safe. She was digging in the dirt trying to examine with a magnifying glass. It led to being picked up by a twisted pervert," the girl's father said.

"I pray you stay miserable knowing you were defeated by a 4-year-old girl you violated."

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