INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis man faces decades behind bars after being found guilty of dragging an 11-year-old girl off a park bench and molesting her out of sight of parkgoers.

James K. Howard Jr. was found guilty during a bench trial on Tuesday of child molesting, a Level 1 felony; kidnapping, a Level 5 felony and confinement, a Level 6 felony.

Howard will be sentenced on Sept. 25 where he faces up to 40 years in prison on his child molesting charge alone. Court records show Howard was also found guilty of being a habitual offender, which could add additional time to his sentence.

According to previous reports, the molestation occurred in August 2022 at Legacy Park of Hope in Indianapolis on the city’s east side.

The 11-year-old victim told police she had been sitting on a bench, watching a show on her phone, when Howard came up behind her, stuck a black rag in her mouth and dragged her into a wooded area near a fence.

After forcing himself on her, the man ran off while the girl searched for help.

According to police reports, officers caught Howard in the area of the park the very next day. Police identified Howard by his hat and his orange phone, both matching descriptions given to police by the victim.

Howard tried to hide his hat from police and even claimed to have bought the hat from a man who was the same height and build as him just yesterday. Howard’s ex-wife, however, confirmed to detectives that he had been wearing the distinct hat for the past several days.

Neighbors who live near the park reacted with disgust after learning about the crime.

“It’s heartbreaking because we do a lot of work with the Legacy Park of Hope. It’s sad it happened. It should not have happened at all,” said pastor Donald Edwards Jr., whose church sits across the street from the park.