HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Derion Vence, the primary suspect connected to the death of Maleah Davis, has pleaded guilty to the charges against him and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Vence, 28, pleaded guilty Thursday to tampering with a corpse and injury to a child.
Back in December, he'd asked a judge to reduce his bond.
Maleah's disappearance captivated the nation two years ago as the desperate search for the 4-year-old girl grew and questions remained unanswered about what happened to her.
Vence, Maleah and the girl's brother were all reported missing on May 4, 2019. Vence was dating Maleah's mother, Brittany Bowen, at the time.
Her disappearance lead to a number of searches for the little girl.
"I can't tell you how many areas that we actually searched and how many times we got the helicopter up," said Tim Miller with Texas EquuSearch.
Then there was a break in the case when a confession by Vence lead investigators to Arkansas.
Maleah's remains were found on the side of the road in rural Fulton, Arkansas, on May 31, 2019.
Miller traveled with detectives to the scene by plane. He vividly remembers the emotional trip to the store to buy a container to bring Maleah home.
"I told him, 'Wait a minute,' before you check out and went ahead and found a baby blanket to go ahead and put over this. We're not going to return her to Houston in something wrapped in black. That was very emotional then and it is now. So, we brought her back covered in a little baby blanket," said Miller.
"Children are the most vulnerable members of our community and young Maleah's death is tragic," said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg. "We may never have all the answers in this case and our thoughts are with her family."
Maleah was being watched by Vence because Bowen was out of state on a trip.
Vence eventually told police he had been attacked by unknown men a day earlier while on his way to the airport to pick up Bowen. He said he had the kids with him at the time.
He said that when he woke up after the attack, Maleah was missing.
But his story didn't match what was on surveillance video, which showed him leaving an apartment with only his son.
Additional video showed Vence leaving his apartment with a full garbage bag in a laundry basket.
A month after Maleah's disappearance and Vence was arrested, he spoke to ABC13, denying that he killed her.
"I ain't no killer, bro," Vence told ABC13's Chauncy Glover in June 2019. "Chauncy, I loved Maleah so much. I did for her more than her own parents. I never had a biological daughter. I would never do anything to hurt her. That's not me. Ask anyone who knows me, and they'll tell you I'm not that type of dude and I was good with the kids."
Houston community activist Quanell X provided the revelation about Maleah's remains, saying that Vence told him the girl is dead and that her body was dumped off a road in Arkansas.
According to Quanell, Vence admitted to him putting Maleah's body in a trash bag, putting the bag in the trunk and then driving to Hope, where he dumped the bag in a wooded area.
Meanwhile, Bowens issued the following statement on Thursday.
"There will never be enough justice for Maleah. This has been a long two years. It has been very traumatic for me and the family. This could never be my true closure for me because we still dont know what really happened and I think thats something hell take with him to the grave. Its very upsetting and heartbreaking to know we may never know the truth. Charges of injury to a child and tampering with a corpse, do not feel like enough. My daughter was killed. Why?"
Vence was sentenced to 40 years for intentional injury to a child and 20 years for tampering with a corpse. He will serve the sentences concurrently, the district attorney's office said.
The video above is from a previous report.
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