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Ex-wife says kidnapping suspect may have 'snapped'

Oct 17, 2012 - The Associated Press

Jesse Speer made a brief appearance in Montana court Monday and said he would not fight extradition to Wyoming

HELENA, Mont. -- A man accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting an 11-year-old Wyoming girl is a talented photographer and graphic designer who is a good father to his two young children, his ex-wife says.

But the cordial relationship between Jesse Speer and Maleesha Kovnesky after their divorce was finalized in 2010 ended a few months ago, when he just stopped talking to her. Kovnesky said Tuesday she was stunned to learn the 39-year-old Speer had been arrested over the weekend and charged in the abduction.

"It's a devastating thing to wake up and see the father of your children on the cover of the newspaper," Kovnesky told The Associated Press. "He wasn't brought up this way. He grew up in a churchgoing family. I think that something in him just must have snapped."

Kovnesky said the case has devastated her and her family, but she is proud of the girl who provided a description that led police to arrest Speer.

"If my own daughter ever ended up in that situation, I hope she would be as brave and strong," Kovnesky said. "It goes beyond whether that was (Speer). I'm just proud of her for being a survivor."

Police said Speer forced the Cody girl into his SUV at gunpoint on Oct. 8 then assaulted and abandoned her outside of town. He was arrested Saturday in Belgrade, Mont., just 10 miles away from his Manhattan home and is awaiting extradition to Wyoming.

The girl was found by hunters driving through the mountainous area.

Kovnesky, who lives in Whitehall, Mont., provided the first close look at Speer since his arrest. She described him as an introvert, whose few friends are mostly fellow photographers, and as a polite, seemingly normal person from a loving family. His arrest was a shock that she never saw coming, she said.

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