A convicted sex offender from Missouri who convinced a 16-year-old Columbia County teen to leave home secretly was found guilty Thursday, Jan. 6, of interstate interference with custody.
After the Columbia County Superior Court jury convicted Austin E. Myers, 68, Judge W. Padgett sentenced Myers to the maximum possible term, five years in prison. Padgett also ordered that Myers will be placed on the sex offender registry.
Assistant District Attorney Andy Pascual, who successfully prosecuted Myers, said the teen had been through some very hard emotional times, having lost her mother among them. Myers exploited the teen’s vulnerabilities as she struck up a friendship with him through a dark web chat site where people can communicate without leaving traces for law enforcement to trace.
In April 2019, the Evans teen was reported missing by her grandfather. No one knew Myers traveled from a small town along the Missouri-Iowa border to Columbia County and picked up the teen in the middle of the night, Pascual said.
Days later, on April 24, 2019, the teen used Myers’ computer to reach out to a friend in Columbia County. Investigators were able to get an internet address and track down the computer’s location. The local sheriff in Missouri knocked on Myers’ door and found the teen, Pascual said.
Myers was convicted in 1991 of a sexual assault on a minor in Iowa, Pascual said. The Columbia County teen also was sexually abused by Myers, but the authorities in Missouri did not pursue a criminal case, Pascual said.
Because the teen was not taken against her will from Columbia County, Myers could not be charged with kidnapping. But, taking a minor without a parent’s or guardian’s permission is a crime, the interference with custody, Pascual said.
Sandy Hodson is a staff reporter with The Augusta Press. Reach her at email@example.com.