A convicted child murderer whose crime shocked Libby nearly 40 years ago is seeking parole.
Robert George Hornback, 58, is a name former Libby residents would rather forget. He was found guilty of brutally killing 8-year-old Ryan VanLuchene on August 31, 1987.
But the offender will appear before the Montana Board of Pardons and Paroles on Wednesday, November 30 at Deer Lodge in an attempt to win his release.
VanLuchene’s mother, Jane Weber, 75, is working to make sure her son’s killer stays in custody.
“I know I would do it again,” Weber said in a recent phone interview with The Western News.
The newspaper published a letter from Weber in the November 11 issue. In it, he asked for the community’s help in keeping Hornback locked up. For those who wish to write the board, their address is the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole, 1002 Hollenbeck Lane, Deer Lodge, MT 59722.
Weber, despite not living in Libby since shortly after her son’s murder, still has fond memories of the community.
“That little town was very good to us,” Weber said. “There was a lot of support from the people there. I hate that Libby has that attached to it.”
The family had moved to Libby from Conrad after Weber took a job at St. John’s Lutheran Hospital, known today as Cabinet Peaks Medical Center.
“I gambled money and a house and we really liked it here,” Weber said.
On August 31, 1987, Ryan left his home with his dog and a net to catch minnows in nearby Flower Creek. Around 2:30 p.m., the dog returned home alone.
By early afternoon, Lincoln County Search and Rescue had joined volunteers in an effort to locate the missing child. They found Van Luchene’s body around 8 p.m.
Suspicion quickly fell on Hornback, according to court documents. Recently released from prison after serving a three-year sentence for sexually assaulting a local boy (the attack also happened near Flower Creek), Hornback had moved in with a couple on Dakota Avenue.
Hornback’s alibi collapsed, and evidence emerged that he had been near Flower Creek on the day Van Luchene disappeared.
The boy was in a thicket east of the stream. Investigators later determined that he died of a severe blow to the head.
Authorities documented scrapes and bruises on his chest, arms, and knees. Strangulation marks were found on his neck. There was evidence of sexual abuse.
Hornback was arrested that night. Hair found on the victim was later compared to Hornback’s and soil samples taken from his clothing closely resembled those found near the crime scene.
Hornback faced the death penalty and chose to enter a guilty plea from Alford, in which he maintained his innocence but acknowledged the weight of the evidence against him.
In return, prosecutors dropped the kidnapping and sexual deviant charges. Hornback was ultimately sentenced to two 100-year terms on charges of willful manslaughter and being a persistent offender. He would not be eligible for parole until after spending 35 years (17 1/2 years for each charge) behind bars.
In 2019, Hornback attempted to get out of the plea deal, filing a motion claiming he agreed to it under duress in 1988. He also cited new evidence and expert analysis that would help his defense.
But Judge John W. Larson, in a December 3, 2019 ruling, re-sentenced Hornback to 100 years in Montana State Prison, dropping the persistent offender charge. Larson required Hornback to abide by the original terms of his plea agreement, meaning he would not be on parole until after 35 years behind bars.
Hornback’s time in custody has been anything but uneventful.
According to an Associated Press story, he was severely beaten in a notorious riot on September 22, 1991 at Montana State Prison. Hornback was quoted at length in the story detailing how the riot began and the manner in which some of the inmates were killed by other inmates.
Weber said that he would have been fine if Hornback did not survive his assault in the riot.
“Afterward, he turned over state evidence about the riot killings,” Weber said. “Then he changed his name and he was transferred to different prisons.”
An online search by the Montana Department of Corrections’ Offender Search does not show that Hornback, or the name Sabastian Alsip Canon, a nickname Hornback used in court documents, is at the Deer Lodge facility.
A review of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles’ list of prior hearings does not indicate that Hornback is scheduled for a hearing.
Montana state prison officials did not respond to multiple requests about his status.
But Weber said that Hornback is indeed being held at Deer Lodge. She said she and other family members will be able to see him on video, but they won’t be in the same room with him.
Weber said Hornback was nearly released from a South Dakota prison due to some confusion over his name.
Lincoln County court documents indicate that Hornback, also known as Sabastian Canon, filed a motion for appeal on November 6, 2001, while residing at the Ed Dorado Correctional Center in Kansas.
Then, in an order dated Oct. 1, 2010, from then-District Judge Michael Prezeau denying Hornback/Canon post-conviction relief, the convict’s address was listed as the Lansing Correctional Center in Kansas.
Hornback then wrote in a letter to the Lincoln County Clerk of Court on November 7, 2010, that he had been held at the Dawson County Correctional Center in Glendive, Montana, before being transferred to the Dakota State Penitentiary. from the south.
“I told the people at Montana State Prison that they shouldn’t move it without telling us,” Weber said.
It is not known when Hornback was returned to Deer Lodge.
Despite the unimaginable tragedy, Weber said she is glad to be alive.
“He’s going to have to deal with me for a few more years.”