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Madison kidnapper sentenced to life

John Willoughby: Greene Publishing, Inc.

Over two years ago, a Madison child was taken from his home and found in Jacksonville the next day. Finally, justice is served; the kidnapper has been sentenced to life after pleading guilty to one count of kidnapping a child under 13.

On April 6, 2018, agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), along with the Madison Police Department (MPD), the FBI and the Madison County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) gathered at the Madison County Emergency Operations Center to announce charges against Jason Lenard Hayling, 44, in connection with the 2016 kidnapping of seven-year-old Bryan Williamson. The child was kidnapped from Gibson Trailer Park on April 17, 2016 between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and dropped off in Jacksonville between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. on April 18, 2016. Williamson was discovered after knocking on the front door of a Jacksonville home where Hayling had dropped him off.

Following the 2016 abduction, investigators and analysts from FDLE, MPD, FBI and MCSO viewed hundreds of hours of video surveillance footage from homes and businesses, processed dozens of citizen calls from a tip line and distributed flyers throughout Florida and southern Georgia in working to solve this case.

Hayling was arrested out of state in February of 2018 for an unrelated Jacksonville capital sexual battery case. After noticing similarities between the Madison kidnapper and Hayling, FDLE agents obtained a search warrant for his DNA.

"This case reflects the relentless efforts of the FBI and our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to identify those who prey on our children," said Special Agent James VanPelt of the FBI's Jacksonville Division. "I am hopeful that the people of Madison County, Jacksonville and everywhere in between can breathe a little easier tonight knowing that Jason Lenard Hayling is no longer an unknown threat to our communities."

On Thursday, Jan. 24, Hayling pled guilty to one count of kidnapping a child under the age of 13 at the Madison County Courthouse. According to Madison County Clerk of Court Billy Washington, the maximum penalty for the aforementioned charge was life in prison, therefore, the other two counts of sexual battery on a child under 12 years of age Hayling faced were dropped. Furthermore, Hayling appeared before Circuit Judge Melissa Olin and the victim's family at 12 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 28, and was sentenced to natural life in prison, closing the case in Madison. According to Washington, Hayling will be transported back to Duval County, Fla., where he faces other charges.

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