A federal judge said Monday a review of kidnapper Tony Zappa's criminal history leads to but one conclusion: The 31-year-old Minnesota man must spend the rest of his life in prison for the violent abduction of a Kearney teenager last year.
"He (Zappa) is a person bent on predatory" crime, U.S. Senior District Judge Warren K. Urbom said at the sentencing hearing in an Omaha federal courtroom. "I can't count on age or time rehabilitating Mr. Zappa."
Zappa, his hands and legs bound by shackles and seated next to his attorney, appeared to show little emotion when the judge announced sentence. In addition to the life term, Urbom also ordered Zappa, formerly known as Anthony Steven Wright, to serve seven years on a related weapons charge.
A federal jury in June convicted him of abducting 17-year-old Anne Sluti outside a Nebraska shopping mall on April 6, 2001. During the next six days, Zappa beat and repeatedly raped the girl. Authorities apprehended him and his victim April 12 at an isolated Montana cabin near the Canadian border.
Prior to the kidnapping, Zappa had been wanted on charges including assault, theft and gun violations in Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Louisiana.
Zappa had eluded authorities since February for failing to appear in Minnesota on a burglary charge. In March authorities caught-up with him in North Iowa which resulted in an exchange of gunfire at a rural residence in the Charles City-Colwell area. He fled the scene, leading authorities on a high-speed chase, abandoning two vehicles before getting rides from citizens through Floyd, Mitchell and Cerro Gordo counties.
He was later spotted at the Mall of America, prompting authorities to close the mall to search for him, but he eluded capture again.
In a news conference after sentencing, Anne Sluti's parents said they and their daughter are getting on with their lives but that she would nevertheless live with the traumatic event the rest of her life.
"Anne's a survivor," Don Sluti said. But "he's (Zappa) done something to our daughter that she'll never get out of her mind."
Anne Sluti, an engineering student at an Indiana college, did not attend the hearing.
Meanwhile, Zappa's attorney, James Martin Davis of Omaha, said he will appeal the conviction and sentence.
Davis had asked Urbom to impose a sentence of 40 years. At least three avenues of appeal will likely be whether Zappa's criminal history before the abduction included violent acts, whether he got a fair trial, and the length of his sentence.
Davis had argued Zappa's two previous felony convictions - both burglaries - were not crimes of violence. Urbom ruled they are considered violent crimes under the federal guidelines judges use to determine sentences.
The Omaha attorney also challenged the fairness of Zappa's trial. Zappa, who has been diagnosed with personality disorders, was heavily sedated during parts of his trial. Davis said the medications may have contributed to Zappa's outbursts in the courtroom, including a June 18 episode in which he slapped his trial attorney, Federal Public Defender David Stickman, in the presence of jurors.
Finally, the attorney argued strenuously that a life sentence would not fit the crime and had no deterrent value.
"Anne Sluti has suffered horribly," Martin told Urbom during the hearing. "But she did not die." He said the maximum sentence would have no deterrent value since those considering committing crimes rarely know what the potential criminal penalties are. Davis said a term of years would be a just sentence.
Even if Urbom imposed the minimum sentence - thirty years for the kidnapping plus seven years on the weapons charge - Zappa would be near 70 years old when released, Davis said. He urged the judge to resist any temptation to use the court for vengeance.
"The government wants you to take (a) silver cross and wooden stake and kill this demon," Davis said. "Justice is not the hammer of vindictiveness."
Zappa stated he was remorseful about the kidnapping and striking Stickman. "I've cried before Mr. Stickman, and he knows that," he said.
Nevertheless, Zappa said, he objects "to all they (Stickman and co-counsel Alan Stoler) did in my case." Assistant U.S. Attorney
Mike Norris told Urbom that Zappa's crime deserved nothing less than a life sentence. He said the man has yet to show real remorse over his actions.
"I'm frankly tired about all the excuses and blame on others for his actions," Norris said.
Urbom appeared persuaded by Zappa's violent treatment of Sluti and by two escape attempts - one from the Lancaster County Jail, then from the Nebraska State Penitentiary - in imposing the sentence. He noted that Zappa raped Sluti several times, bound her in chains, beat her on the day of the abduction and threatened to kill her as authorities drew near.
He terrorized "for six days a 17-year-old who had done him no harm, leaving her with jagged scars," Urbom said. "There will be no downward (sentencing) departure."
No final decision has been made on where Zappa will serve the sentence. He requested to be sent to the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan.
Butch Mabin is a reporter for the Lincoln Journal Star, a Lee Enterprises newspaper. Reach him at (402) 473-7234 or at email@example.com.