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Odessa woman gets 8 years in kidnapping case

Wednesday, August 27, 2008 | 4:27 p.m. CDT; updated 5:41 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 27, 2008

INDEPENDENCE — An Odessa woman who admitted her role in a plot to kidnap a pregnant teenager and steal her unborn baby has been sentenced to eight years in prison.

Lauren Gash, 20, pleaded guilty last month to kidnapping, assault and felonious restraint in the July 2007 attack on Amanda Howard, then 18, inside a Blue Springs motel room. Gash was sentenced Tuesday to eight years each on the first two counts and seven years on the third with the sentences to run concurrently.

Howard, now Amanda Culley, was pregnant, single and unemployed when two women she met on the Internet lured her from her home with promises that they would drive her to get baby clothes.

Culley, of Clinton— a town of 9,400 about 70 miles southeast of Kansas City, got into the car with Gash and co-defendant Alisa D. Betts of Atchison, Kan., but soon realized something was wrong and tried to use her cell phone, police said.

She was sprayed with some type of pepper spray and taken to the Interstate Inn in Blue Springs, where she was bound and gagged.

Prosecutors say Betts got cold feet and called police. The officers who came to the motel thought they were checking on a distressed pregnant woman and became suspicious when they saw the duct tape around Culley's neck and in her hair.

Culley gave birth to a son, Ethan, two days after the attack.

In the motel room, investigators found scissors, a sheet of plastic and a multipurpose fishing tool, along with diapers, a blanket and a fake birth certificate.

"The motel room basically was set up for surgery to take place," assistant Jackson County prosecutor Traci Stansell said Tuesday at Gash's sentencing hearing. She added that the case "horrified" her.

Prosecutors say that before the attack, Gash had registered at Babies "R" Us, held a baby shower and wore maternity clothes. She also told relatives that she had given birth to a boy.

"I just want to say I'm sorry," Gash told Culley during the sentencing hearing. "I wish there was a way to make it up to you."

Culley, now 19, said she thought she was going to die when Gash stuffed a wash cloth in her mouth and tried to tie her mouth shut with duct tape.

Culley said she was relieved by Gash's sentence.

"The worst part is over," she said. "I never have to face her again.

Betts remains charged with kidnapping, assault and felonious assault. Her trial is scheduled to begin in October.

 


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