INDIANAPOLIS — A man has been sentenced to more than 40 years in prison for molesting an 11-year-old at a public park.

Court filings indicate James Howard Jr. is headed to prison for just under 44 years — counting 425 days of jail credit — for molesting a person less than 21 years of age and kidnapping a child younger than 14 years of age. His sentence was enhanced by 15 years because he was deemed a habitual offender.

Previous police reports indicate Howard Jr. ambushed the 11-year-old while she was sitting on a bench at Legacy Park of Hope on the east side of Indianapolis in August 2022. The young girl was watching a show on her phone when Howard Jr. came up behind her, stuck a black rag in her mouth and dragged her into a wooded area near a fence that was out of the view of other parkgoers.

Court documents indicate Howard Jr. then forced himself on the juvenile and fled the scene.

Howard Jr. was apprehended by investigators a day later. He was easily identified because he was wearing a black hat with the words “bad boy” imprinted on it. Howard Jr. was also in possession of an orange phone when investigators found him.

Police reports indicate the victim had mentioned the distinct hat and orange phone during an interview with officers.

According to a press release from the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, the victim played a pivotal role in the prosecution of Howard Jr. With funding from the Victim and Witness Assistance Program, special victim prosecutors flew the girl to Indianapolis from another state so she could testify during the trial.

After a guilty verdict was reached, the victim was safely escorted back home, according to the MCPO.

“The young survivor in this case has repeatedly shown admirable courage throughout this extremely difficult process,” Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said in a Sept. 1 press release. “Her testimony ultimately put law enforcement and prosecutors in a position to ensure that the defendant cannot harm others in our community.”

“This case demonstrates our trial teams’ willingness to go above and beyond to secure justice on behalf of victims and their families.”