The man responsible for 4-year-old Cleo Smith’s 18-day disappearance in Australia last year has pleaded guilty to abducting her from a campsite in October.
On Monday, Terence Darrell Kelly signed onto a virtual court appearance in Carnarvon, Australia, from a maximum-security prison, according to multiple outlets. During the hearing, he admitted to abducting the little girl, pleading guilty to a charge of forcibly taking a child aged under 16. He now faces up to 20 years in prison. The case has been transferred to the District Court of Western Australia with a hearing set for late March.
More legal trouble awaits the 36-year-old, as well. He did not enter a plea to two additional charges, including the assault of a police officer. A sentencing date for those chargers has not been announced.
As we reported, Cleo went missing from her family’s campsite on October 16. Police believe that Smith was taken from the campsite to Kelly’s home and was already locked inside by the time her mom and stepdad, Ellie Smith and Jake Gliddon, woke up at around 6 a.m. to find her missing, thus making it even harder to track her down.
A nationwide search began as cops did everything in their power to find the little girl, including almost taking the case international when they feared she could have been brought out of the country. A $1 million reward helped draw more attention and they were able to find the “needle in the haystack” they were looking for, WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch said in a press conference in early November:
“The million dollar reward helped us with collecting even more from the members of the public. Everyone came forward to helping us. There were car movements, there were phone movements, there were antecedents of people, the jigsaw fit the puzzle. We had to find that needle. Last night the needle in the haystack came out and they acted in a heartbeat.”
Smith was found just 62 miles from the campsite and only streets away from her home. It remains unclear why the 36-year-old kidnapped her, but he is said to have acted alone. Neighbors did describe him as an “oddball” with an obsession with dolls.
When found, police confirmed that the preschooler appeared to be in “physically okay” shape, but she was taken to the hospital where they confirmed she had no injuries. Her family released an emotional statement, telling outlets:
“We are so thankful that our little girl is back within our arms and our family is whole again.”
They also thanked those who supported the investigation, adding:
“We are humbled by the love and support that we have received from not only our local community but the whole of Western Australia and across the country.”
The family has stayed quiet since Cleo’s return, but we hope that Terence’s guilty plea helps them continue their healing as they process this trauma. Since Kelly admitted his guilt, Cleo will not have to stand trial, which would likely have been an intense and emotional experience for the young girl.
To hear more about the latest legal update in this case, check out this local news report (below).