As he looked down at the teenager standing just inches away from him with a smile as wide as can be, Earl Melchert told Jasmine Block if she ever needed anything, he would always be there for her.
"Even if it's just to talk, I am here for you. I am always here for you, forever," he said to the girl wearing a Batman shirt as they stood outside the Douglas County Courthouse Wednesday afternoon.
Melchert was at the courthouse to attend the hearing for Steven Powers, the last man to be sentenced for his role in the 2017 kidnapping of Block, who was just 15 years old when she was taken from her Alexandria home and held captive for 29 days.
The Elbow Lake Grain Co-op employee had been working close to his home near Barrett when Block appeared in his yard, after swimming across part of a lake once she escaped from Powers and the other two men, Thomas Barker and Joshua Holby.
Melchert had told his wife he wanted to attend Wednesday's hearing because it was the last one.
"I wanted to be there," he said. "I wanted to see Jasmine again."
Melchert said he has followed the entire case and said the three suspects "got what they deserved."
Powers, 21, of Mankato, was sentenced in Douglas County District Court by Judge Timothy Churchwell to a total of 104 months (roughly eight and a half years) in prison after pleading guilty in November to criminal sexual conduct and kidnapping. He will receive credit for the 499 days he has already served.
Powers is also required to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life, and after his release will be on probation for at least 10 years.
Holby, 32, was sentenced Jan. 11 in Douglas County District Court to 86 months (roughly seven years) in prison after pleading guilty in September to two counts of kidnapping. On Nov. 30, Barker, 33, was sentenced to 300 months (25 years) in prison for kidnapping, criminal sexual conduct in the first degree with a dangerous weapon and criminal sexual conduct in the first degree causing fear of great bodily harm.
Before he left the bench, Churchwell said he had one last thing to say, and that it was to Block. Looking directly at her, the judge said, "You have my utmost respect for your courage and bravery."
Stronger than you
Sarah Block, Jasmine's mother, read a statement from her daughter in court. Jasmine's letter was directed at Powers, and it said what brought her to court Wednesday was his decisions. She did not want to be there, but said, "I wanted to prove to you than I am stronger than you."
Her statement to Powers went on to say, "You will never bring me down and if you do, I'm strong enough to bring myself back up thanks to you three guys. You three guys made me stronger than I was. I don't have to stay a broken girl because of your decisions."
No longer silent
Karen Block, Jasmine's grandmother, had not read her own impact statement at either of the first two sentencing hearings. She said she was in court to support her family and had remained silent, but that was about to end.
She told Powers he could have been a hero, but instead he chose to participate in hurting, hiding, scaring, torturing, abusing and starving her granddaughter.
"You chose not to end the misery," she told him. "You chose to add to it."
Karen Block said she was also angry at Powers and his attorney because they failed to tell the truth about what happened, among other things.
Although she stressed how angry she was with the attorney, Karen thanked the judge, county attorney's office, bailiffs, community, Someplace Safe and many others for their support.
As she fought back tears, Karen thanked one more person - Melchert, who she called an angel and said he knew what to do that day to keep her granddaughter safe.
She then directed her last words to her granddaughter and said, "Jasmine, I am so proud of you."
Strong, brave, courageous
Both of Jasmine's sisters, Paige and Abigail, read statements at the hearing.
Paige said she hopes that when Powers is in prison, he can think about what he's done and how much damage he caused to not only her family but his as well. She said she hopes that her family, especially her sister, can one day find peace.
She thanked law enforcement personnel for all of their efforts in finding her sister, and said she couldn't thank Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels enough for everything he did.
Paige also spoke to Jasmine: "You have been so brave and strong throughout this whole situation. I know it hasn't been the easiest or the simplest, but you have managed to continue every single day - from going to school to being able to be a kid again. You are so strong, brave and courageous. Today is your day, Jaz. Your day to celebrate it's finally done."
She then told her little sister that she hopes she is able to fully find peace sometime soon.
Paige also thanked Melchert, saying he was their true hero and that if it wouldn't have been for him, the outcome could have been much different.
In her statement, Abigail said there needs to be an end to kidnapping and sex trafficking but that would never happen if "we keep letting monsters like Thomas Barker, Joshua Holby and Steven Powers off with a slap on the wrist."
She angrily said that her sister's three kidnappers and abusers stole her sister's innocence and that Jasmine now has to live her life haunted by the memories of what "those monsters" did to her, and that for some reason all they get is a "a slap on the wrist."
"Jasmine had to sit for 29 days wondering if she would ever make it out alive," Abigail said. "If that was your sister, daughter or best friend, how would you feel?"
Proud of her strength
Sarah Block, who has read a statement at each of the hearings, made a lengthy statement, touching on some of the same points she made at the previous sentencings. She smiled when she spoke of her feelings for Jasmine and her other daughters.
"Each day Jasmine shows her strength," she said proudly. "I am so proud of all three of my girls. We faced this head-on and you all are so strong and have so much love for one another. We will make sure this never happens again. We will never be defeated. Jasmine is stronger than all three of those guys because she learned to be strong through us."
Sarah concluded by saying the journey has been long and painful, but instead of this being the end of the entire journey, it is the beginning of a new chapter and the end of a painful chapter.
"It is still a long road of healing, but we, our family, is a force and will take it head-on and show just how powerful we are."