There are benefits to trying a kidnapping case in federal court, law expert says

Fort Worth residents celebrate safe return of 8-year-old kidnapped

Fort Worth residents celebrated the return of an 8-year-old who was kidnapped Saturday, May 18, 2019.
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Fort Worth residents celebrated the return of an 8-year-old who was kidnapped Saturday, May 18, 2019.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to remove the name of the girl who was kidnapped because of the nature of the allegations later added against the suspect.

A kidnapping charge in federal court could end in an quicker plea and longer sentence served than if the case were tried in state court, according to a law professor from the University of Texas at Austin.

When accused kidnapper Michael Webb, 51, was originally arrested, he was placed under local custody and given a $100,000 bond. However, Webb’s case was transferred on Tuesday to federal court, where he was charged with kidnapping and will be held without bond until at least his preliminary hearing in June.

Susan R. Klein, the Alice McKean Young Regents Chair in Law at the UTA School of Law, said it’s normal for kidnapping cases to be transferred to federal court.

“If you’re the defendant, you’d rather be in state court,” she said. “Prosecutors, however, would rather they be in federal.”

She listed several reasons, including the higher probability that a defendant who is deemed dangerous will be held for the duration of the case and likely won’t make bail.

“The feds also have more resources,” she said. “It’s higher prestige to be a prosecutor in the higher court for a reason. You will usually get a better outcome. Ninety-seven percent of defendants in federal court will plead guilty, but it’s much lower in state courts.”

And if defendants plead or are found guilty, they’ll serve more of their sentence in prison than they would had they been convicted in state court.

Webb, who was given a court-appointed attorney and was present for an initial hearing Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Fort Worth, faces up to life in prison. His attorney declined to comment and U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Cureton declined to summarize the charge against Webb.

Webb is accused of forcing an 8-year-old girl into his car just after 6:30 p.m. Saturday near 6th Avenue and Lowden Street. Her mother grabbed a piece of jewelry from the assailant in what Fort Worth police said was a “valiant fight” with the man in the Ryan Place neighborhood.

Eight hours later, the girl was found safe at the WoodSprings Suites hotel in Forest Hill. Webb was arrested.

The Forest Hill Police Department said on Monday that officers received a tip about two hours before the girl was found to check the hotel. They made contact with Webb and walked through his hotel room, but didn’t find her, they said.

But at around 2:30 a.m. Sunday, police said two people from a local church saw the suspect’s car and led police to the hotel where she was found. The church members saw details of the kidnapping on social media and drove around to help find the girl.

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