Crime

Man changes mind about pleading guilty to Fort Worth girl’s kidnapping, hearing delayed

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Hours after Michael Webb changed his mind about pleading guilty to the kidnapping of an 8-year-old Fort Worth girl, a federal grand jury indicted him on a count of kidnapping, paving the way for the case to possibly go to trial.

Michael Webb, wearing an orange jumpsuit with his hands and feet shackled, had arrived in a federal courtroom Wednesday morning with plans to plead guilty to one count of kidnapping.

“He didn’t have a plea deal,” said Erin Dooley, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas. “He was just pleading open to the charges against him, which sometimes happens whenever evidence is overwhelming. Defendants plead open in hopes that gets them some leniency.”

But moments before the hearing was to begin, the girl’s family was led outside the courtroom. Soon after, U.S. Marshals removed Webb from the courtroom.

Federal Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cureton then announced that, at the request of the parties, the hearing would be continued until 9:30 a.m. June 26.

Dooley said later Wednesday morning that Webb “elected not to plead guilty this morning.”

She said she did not know if Webb still intends to plead guilty in the case at next week’s hearing.

“Sometimes defendants get cold feet. They just need a little bit more time,” Dooley said. “Maybe it was something else. I don’t know.”

Hours later, court records show, a federal grand jury indicted Webb on one count of kidnapping, paving the way for his case to go forward to trial should he not take a plea in the case. An arraignment hearing is scheduled for Monday morning.

Webb faces up to life in prison.

Webb, 51, is accused of kidnapping the girl on the evening of May 18 as she walked with her mother in the 2900 block of 6th Avenue in the Ryan Place neighborhood. She was rescued about eight hours later after two Good Samaritans spotted the suspect’s car in a Forest Hill hotel parking lot.

The Forest Hill Police Department announced Wednesday that it has fired an officer who searched the suspect’s hotel room without finding the girl, more than two hours before she was rescued.

Webb was charged federally because he used his cellphone and the internet to get directions to the hotel and traveled on Interstate 35 and I-20 to reach the hotel — a means or facility of interstate or foreign commerce used to further the commission of the kidnapping by transporting or concealing the girl.

Erin Nealy Cox, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, was among those present in the courtroom Wednesday morning. Court documents indicate she will serve as a co-counsel in the case against Webb.

“We are determined to hold the Defendant accountable for his alleged crime. If he wants a trial — which is his right — we are prepared to prove the facts before a jury,” Cox said in a press release. “We’ll do whatever it takes to bring this man to justice.”

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