A “pure evil” child killer has been sentenced to life in prison for a minimum of 15 years for the 1994 murder of six-year-old Ricky Neff.
Ames Watson was 13 years old when he lured the pupil into the woods near his home in Peterborough and strangled him to achieve a “horrific fantasy” he had told his mother about three days earlier.
Ricky stripped naked and placed his naked body in the shape of a star for sexual gratification, deliberately “displaying” him near the children’s den in the woods.
His punishment was largely determined by the age he was at the time of his injury.
The judge, Mrs. Justice McGowan, said: “Ricky was a child willing to trust and engage with strangers.
“He never had the opportunity to be happy and live a normal and fulfilling life. This opportunity was denied him by his killer.”
She said his childhood was “sad,” that he was neglectful, “a victim of violent and cruel behaviour,” and only went to school at lunchtime so he could have a proper meal.
Watson showed no emotion while being judged.
The judge said he would only be released after he had served a minimum of 15 years – less than the two he had spent in custody – and once the parole board was satisfied he was no longer a danger to the public.
Ricky’s murder was among the coldest notorious cases in police files until Watson’s DNA was identified on the victim’s clothing after the case was re-examined two decades later.
Ruth Nef, a mother of four, was acquitted of her son’s murder in 1996, but was sentenced to seven years in prison after admitting child cruelty — a conviction that she is considering challenging, many years after her release.
The court did not attend the sentencing hearing.
Watson was described as a “pure, unscrupulous villain”, while police said he was a “fantasy, compulsive liar” and showed no remorse.
In an affidavit she witnessed on her behalf, Ms Neff said: “Like stones falling into a puddle, it (the murder) was widespread.
Ricky’s murder left a huge hole in our lives and hearts
“I miss him so much that it feels like my heart has been ripped out.”
Rebecca Maria Harvey, Ricky’s older sister, broke down while speaking in court.
She said, “Even though I was the eldest, it wasn’t because he was taking care of me.
“Losing Ricky was like losing the other half of me.”
Addressing Watson, but without using his name, she said, “After all these years of living your life, you’re finally getting your pay back, and Ricky Lee Harvey is finally getting justice.”
Watson, now 41, was convicted of murder in April by a jury that deliberated 36 hours and 31 minutes to reach a majority verdict after an 11-week trial.
Ricky’s body was found on November 29, 1994, the day after he went missing.
Watson was so obsessed with newspaper coverage of the murder that he copied the school’s front page news.
The following month, police questioned him as a witness after an elderly resident reported seeing him with Ricky at the nearby Welland Estate.
It was his undisputed false account, as police wrongly focused on the theory that Mrs. Neff killed her son and used a buggy to dump his body.
Prosecutors initially felt there was still enough evidence for the trial, but they reversed their decision after Ms Neff and Ricky’s sisters called for the victims’ right to review.
Key clues included Ricky’s last meal, Weetabix, which put the time of his death around noon.
This meant that Ricky was killed shortly after he and Watson were seen heading into the woods where he used to play.
Rikki Clarks’ muddy boots also indicated that his walk in the woods was a one-way trip.
Watson’s sexual interest in young boys was known to police, who questioned him about an allegation that he molested a five-year-old in 1993.
An ex-girlfriend later said he strangled her during sex in the woods, killed a bird and spread its wings, in a sinister reconstruction of Ricky’s murder.
The judge said there was no evidence of sexual activity with Ricky’s body, even though Watson had “a sexual interest in young boys”.
In a police interview in 2016, Watson attempted to explain the presence of his DNA on Ricky’s clothing by claiming he had picked it up to look at diggers through a hole in a fence.
Watson, who has a long criminal record with convictions including car theft, fled to Portugal while on bail on suspicion of murder, but was extradited to Britain.
Former Assistant Chief Constable Paul Fulwood, who led the investigation into the cold case, said mistakes had been made and that police initially “charged the wrong person” in Ricky’s mother’s trial.
But he denied that the police had missed an opportunity to charge Watson at that time.
He said, “It took a long time to get to this point, but we made a promise that we would find the person responsible for Ricky’s death, and that’s a promise we kept.
“Ricky was a little boy of six years old – he was a kind, laid-back young man, who was taken ruthlessly under the ugliest of circumstances.”
Police said there was no evidence that Watson was involved in any other serious unsolved crimes in the area.