John Heuer describes himself as a monster and a drunk on the day last May that he kidnapped an 8-year-old girl from a St. Paul laundromat and sexually assaulted her in his home.

As he drove her away, he told a judge Friday, he thought about turning his car around and returning the girl to her family. But he was too scared, he said.

The abduction, reported about 6:40 p.m., triggered a rare Amber Alert and waves of shock across the Twin Cities.

At Heuer's sentencing hearing Friday, Anoka County District Judge Jenny Walker Jasper sentenced him to 19 years in prison. The punishment was nearly the maximum allowed under the state's sentencing guideline.

"I wish I could make it all go away," the judge said at the end of the sentencing hearing. "All I can do is try and protect public safety."

Heuer, 48, of Spring Lake Park, had waived his right to a trial and pleaded guilty to kidnapping and sexual assault earlier this year. He allegedly lured the girl into his truck from the Giant Wash Coin Laundry in St. Paul with a puppy.

He took her to his townhouse, where he kissed, fondled and had oral sex with her, according to the charges against him. He had been drinking at a bar and strip club next to the laundromat.

The girl distracted Heuer at his townhouse and fled, according to court documents. Neighbors found her outside and called police about 7:20 p.m.

The girl's family declined to appear at Friday's hearing. Instead, prosecutor Paul Young read a victim impact letter crafted by the family's therapist.

The letter described devastating hardships the family suffered when they left Burma and came to Minnesota two years ago. The girl's mother said her daughter has nightmares and excessively scans her environment for danger.

The girl has a significant loss of appetite and will need counseling for much of her life, the letter said. The sexual assault also carries significant cultural repercussions in the small and tight-knit Burmese community, the letter said. She lives with fear, shame and self-blame, Young said.

"The attack completely destroyed the family and how they see each other and the world," Young read from the letter.

Assistant County Attorney Jennifer Verdeja asked the judge to consider several aggravating factors before handing down her sentence. They included the multiple sexual acts and the girl's vulnerability because of her size and language barriers. The girl, who speaks little English, is only 3 feet tall and weights 30 pounds; Heuer is 6 feet and 210 pounds, Verdeja said.

Verdeja also talked about psychological tests performed on Heuer since his arrest, which detailed his obsession with child molestation. He took a victim's status, blaming his crime on alcoholism.

Bryan Leary, Heuer's attorney, said "this was a frightening case -- a parent's worst nightmare." He added that this wasn't the worst case to cross the threshold of the Anoka County courthouse. Heuer didn't hurt the girl with a weapon and didn't pursue her after she ran away from his house, Leary said.

In his statement, written on yellow notebook paper, Heuer discussed his shame and apologized to the family. He said he could understand the family's pain because his young son once disappeared from a department store.

"I hope, for the ones affected, they find peace," he said.

Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo, who attended the hearing, thanked law enforcement officers for their work and two citizens who helped the girl after she escaped from Heuer's house.

"If that didn't happen, he probably would have followed her and brought her back to his house," he said.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465