Man pleads guilty to tossing girl in Springfield lake

Friday, February 9, 2007

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) -- A man accused of tossing a 5-year-old girl into a Springfield lake to terrorize his estranged wife pleaded guilty Friday to all five felony charges against him.

Johnnie Jerome Kerns, 29, of Springfield, could be sentenced to 55 years or more in prison, prosecutors said. Sentencing is set for May 11 in Greene County circuit court.

Kerns was arrested last September shortly after two fishermen pulled the girl from the lake in pre-dawn darkness. They had heard what sounded like a child being thrown in from a bridge and then a vehicle speeding off.

Kerns was accused of kidnapping the girl from her mother's home and tying a car tire to the girl before throwing her in the water. The girl is not Kerns' daughter.

Greene County assistant prosecutor Dan Patterson said Kerns faces sentences of five to 15 years each for three counts of kidnapping, burglary and assault.

A charge of child abuse could bring up to seven years in prison.

The fifth charge, armed criminal action, carries a minimum sentence of three years and no upper limit, Patterson said.

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