FORT WORTH, Texas (KETK) The Tyler man accused of abducting an 8-year-old girl as she walked with her mother in Fort Worth back in May will spend the rest of his life in federal prison.
Michael Darwin Webb, 51, of Tyler, was found guilty after a two-day trial in September by a federal jury in Forth Worth.
The jury deliberated for less than 10 minutes for abducting 8-year-old Salem Sabatka.
“We believe that justice has been served in this case. And we are thankful for and agree with the Judge’s decision to sentence him to life in prison. My hope is that this family and this community will find solace in knowing that he will never be able to harm another little child again.”Nealy Cox, U.S. Attorney
The victim’s mother testified, describing her daughter as “brave, strong, and smart” before describing for the jury the horrific details of the “physical fight” for her daughter’s life.
In a three-hour recorded interview with the FBI, Webb confessed to the kidnapping, admitting that after successfully fighting off the child’s mother, he drove to a church parking lot.
WEBB’S CRIMINAL HISTORY
Also known as “Thin Man,” his past charges include aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, sexual assault, evading and resisting arrest, disturbing the peace and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
His most recent arrest was in 2018 in his hometown for sexual assault and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
According to judicial records, that arrest was on April 26, 2018.
Both cases were handled in the seventh district court, with Judge Kerry L. Russell.
While Webb was booked into the Smith County jail in April, he was released in September of that same year.
KETK has learned that both cases were dismissed later that year.
According to the dismissal order, the prosecution had asked for the charges to be dropped after the victim had moved to Arizona, she had stopped cooperating with police, and had several warrants out for her arrest.
Back in 1995, Webb pled guilty to terroristic threat, which is a misdemeanor and was sentenced to 90 days in the Smith County Jail.
Also in that year, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail for evading arrest.
In 1996, his crimes escalated to burglary of a habitation, a first-degree felony. After being arrested in Gregg County, he pled guilty, and was sentenced to five years.
Five years later, his rap sheet continues to grow. In 2001, Webb was booked for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, where the offense date was New Years Day.
That same year, Webb was booked into the Gregg County Jail for a charge of Unlawful Restraint. He would then plead guilty and be sentenced to nine months in the Gregg County Jail.
FORT WORTH KIDNAPPING
The girl was walking with her mother along 6th Avenue in Fort Worth on May 18. Webb reportedly drove up to the mother and daughter and grabbed the girl, pulling her into his car. The mother charged into the vehicle after her daughter, but was thrown from the car.
According to FWPD spokesman Officer Buddy Calzada, the mother “immediately started running to people to call the police.”
Fort Worth police held a live press conference at the scene of Salem’s kidnapping and asked for the public’s help in finding the girl.
Photos and video of the suspect’s vehicle, caught on local doorbell video cameras, were released on social media to the public.
And, according to Calzada, the public responded in a big way.
Community members took the photos and began searching. Ultimately, Calzada said, it was “two local church members” who spotted the suspect’s vehicle and called police.
Fort Worth officers responded to the scene at Wood Springs Suites hotel in Forest Hill early Sunday morning. They broke down a door and found Salem safe.
“We got her, we got her!” officers announced on their radios. “He’s in custody; we have her.”
The little girl was taken to a local hospital to be checked out, but Calzada said she appeared to be physically unharmed.
Multiple law enforcement agencies had assisted FWPD in the search, including the Texas Department of Public Safety, Arlington police, the FBI and Homeland Security.
But, said Calzada, credit for the happy ending to a potentially tragic story belongs to the Fort Worth community.
“We asked community members to look for the vehicle, and that’s exactly what happened,” he said at a press conference after Salem was found. “Two local church members went out, saw the vehicle, called it in, called Fort Worth Police Department.”
He expressed the FWPD’s deep gratitude for that activity and vigilance.
“We do want to thank our followers,” he said. “This comes from the heart of the Fort Worth Police Department. We’re a good PD, we work hard. But with you on our side, we’re able to be more effective. You guys were a huge asset to helping Salem be found safe.”
Calzada said it was “citizens who went out of their way and helped not just the PD, but a family get some good closure” to Salem’s kidnapping.
“It’s taken several hours,” Calzada said, “but it’s taken a whole community to make this happen.”