A federal judge handed a 38-year prison sentence Wednesday to an Indiana man who kidnapped and sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl who had been walking home from school in Calumet City five days before Christmas in 2017.
Before she handed down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood praised the way law enforcement and members of the community came together to bring Bryan Protho, 42, to justice.
“What occurred is a nightmare of every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle and anyone else who has ever loved a child,” Wood said.
Early in the hours-long sentencing hearing Wednesday, the victim spoke to the judge about her kidnapping. She said, “I thought I was going to die.” She said she later felt “afraid to go to sleep in fear of having nightmares” but also said, “Now, I’ve got my power back.”
Protho declined to make a statement before he was sentenced. But defense attorney Michael Leonard wrote in a court filing that even the mandatory minimum of 20 years faced by Protho was “extraordinarily draconian” and anything above that would be “unwarranted.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Parente told the judge in his own filing that the victim, at the time of the attack, “was in fourth grade and excelling in her classes. She loved to play Uno, adored her two brothers, pink was her favorite color, and crab legs were her favorite food.”
“But to Bryan Protho, she was nothing more than an object he could use for his sexual desires,” Parente wrote.
Parente wrote that the victim had left the school, which was five blocks from her home, with two of her friends around 3 p.m. Dec. 20, 2017. The friends said goodbye to the victim three blocks into the walk, and she was left to walk the final two blocks alone. The prosecutor said the girl noticed a red SUV following her, and she picked up the pace.
But Parente said she then saw the SUV parked in front of her, and Protho blocking her way. Protho grabbed her “like a rag doll and dragged her into his car,” the prosecutor wrote. Protho sped away but the girl began to scream for help, Parente wrote, so Protho punched her in the face and told her to “shut up” and asked if she wanted to die.
After turning into an alley, the prosecutor said Protho told the girl to take off her pants “or I will shoot you” and said, “if you scream or try to escape I will kill you.” Parente said the girl got away after Protho finished the sexual assault, and Protho was arrested a week later.
During Protho’s trial in February 2020, Parente wrote that the victim took the witness stand and faced Protho, but she went into shock and had to be carried away. A jury eventually convicted Protho of kidnapping and sexually assaulting the girl.