TAMPA — A daughter’s first day of school, her first lost tooth. These are memories that parents treasure.
They’re also ones Jane Lempero missed out on when her ex-husband kidnapped their daughter and held her in Dubai for two years.
On Thursday, a federal judge sentenced Andrew Haley Morcombe to three years in prison for international parental kidnapping.
Morcombe, 51, kept the 5-year-old out of the U.S. from 2014 to 2016 — violating a court order — by forging travel documents.
"I had to fight to be a mother to my own child," Lempera said at the sentencing.
Morcombe, a former major in the U.S. Air Force, previously worked at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base.
The two met in Florida in 2002 and married four years later. They welcomed their daughter in 2008.
The marriage dissolved three years later. But soon after Lempera filed for divorce, Morcombe began filing court petitions alleging his wife had physically abused him. All were deemed unfounded, and the pair agreed to joint custody of the girl.
Morcombe relocated to Germany for work, and the two ironed out an agreement that allowed him to see his daughter there on a temporary basis.
In 2013, while Lempera was vacationing in Europe with her now-husband and the girl was staying with a close acquaintance of the mother, Morcombe flew from Australia to Florida and told authorities Lempera had disappeared without explanation.
He took their daughter back to Australia, alleging sexual misconduct by Lempera’s now-husband. A court ruled there was no evidence, and Lempera regained custody of the girl in October 2013.
In 2014, despite a court agreement that the parents would share the daughter’s time within the United States, Morcombe picked up the girl for a regularly scheduled visit and took her to Dubai, using a fraudulently obtained passport.
In 2016, as Morcombe and the girl were flying from Germany to London, a missing person’s notice led to them being stopped. The girl was returned to her mother, and Morcombe was arrested.
A jury convicted him of international parental kidnapping in April.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven sentenced Morcombe to three years in prison, the maximum allowed under the law. She also ordered one year of probation, $95,000 in fines and $90,000 in restitution.
Andrew Morcombe said he recognized the impact of his actions, and that he would now fight for his daughter through legal means. He has retained an attorney for the civil side of the pair’s dispute, which is ongoing.
Morcombe’s attorney, Bjorn Brunvald, said they intend to appeal the conviction.
Scriven said Morcombe has shown the "most limited levels of remorse possible," and that his actions took away years and memories that can’t be retrieved for the mother and daughter.
"If the court could, it would exceed the maximum sentence," the judge said.
Bre Bradham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (803) 460-9001.