A 27-year-old man from Minnesota will spent the rest of his life behind bars. There is no possibility of parole.
Zachary Todd Anderson admitted to not only abducting and raping the daughter of his friend, but also strangling her.
The little girl, Alayna Ertl, was only five years old at the time of her death. She was kidnapped early in the morning on the 20th of August 2016. She was taken from her family’s home, located in the city of Watkins, Minneapolis.
The body of the little girl was found later that day.
During a court appearance on Friday, Anderson—who lived in Coons Rapids—admitted to his crimes. Immediately after he did so, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. There is no possibility for early release.
That is the maximum sentence for any offense in the state of Minnesota.
Even though Anderson pleaded guilty, family and friends of the Alayna gave victim impact statements after he did so.
According to the autopsy of Alayna, the child died from “homicidal violence”, which included blunt force trauma to her head as well as strangulation. As mentioned above, she had also been sexually assaulted.
Her killer pleaded guilty to first degree murder while committing criminal sex conduct. There were several other charges against him—18 to be exact—but according to court records they were dropped.
Back in October, he actually pleaded not guilty to several charges, including first-degree murder, criminal sexual conduct, theft, kidnapping, and interference with a dead body.
Anderson was a friend of Alayna Ertl’s family and had been spending the night at the family’s house. Anderson and Alayna’s father had played in a softball game the day prior to Alayna’s disappearance.
Anderson had spent the night at the family’s home before.
Alayna was put to bed at around two in the morning on August 20, and that was the last time she was seen alive by her family.
Both she and Anderson were gone later that morning, along with the family’s truck. Alayna’s father’s phone was actually in the truck, as he had left it there. Police tracked the phone until it was turned off. The cellular phone pinged a tower in Todd County, which gave authorities a hint as to where the truck—as well as Alayna and Anderson—might be.
An amber alert was alerted as soon as Alayna’s father noticed that the little girl was missing. He woke up at about eight in the morning.
Anderson was then found several hours later. He was at a cabin belonging to his family—the cabin is located near the city of Motley.
Anderson’s own father actually called law enforcement when he learned of the abduction. He told law enforcement that he believed his son could be involved in Alayna’s disappearance. Apparently Anderson had phoned his father earlier asking to stay at the family’s cabin. The father gave law enforcement directions to the cabin.
Law enforcement found Anderson’s truck—a 2002 GMC Sierra—hidden near the cabin. Upon searching the residence, they found a 20-gauge shotgun. Multiple rounds were spilled about. The cabin, however, was unoccupied.
There was also what seemed to be suicide note written, and there was blood on the note.
Anderson was found and arrested shortly thereafter; he was found in a swampy area, standing in knee-deep water.
According to police, he had open cuts on his wrist. He told police that they could find Alayna in the swamp, hidden under some debris. Authorities would soon come across the young girl’s pink Disney blanket—it was sticking out from some of the swamp’s brush.
Anderson was arrested at about 4:20 in the afternoon.
After a search of the area, authorities located Alayna’s lifeless body. It was submerged in water and hidden by brush.
The little girl’s body was found about nine hours after her parents noticed she was missing.
This was near Wilderness Park, which is outside of the city of Motley—in Cass County.
Days after her body was found by authorities, almost 1,000 mourners attended Alayna’s funeral, which was held at a local church. The funeral was held on the 26th of August.