HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas man was sentenced Thursday to 40 years for charges related to the death of a 4-year-old girl who went missing for several weeks before her remains were found in Arkansas.

Maleah Davis was reported missing in May 2019. Derion Vence, the ex-boyfriend of Maleah’s mother, initially told police the Houston girl had been kidnapped by assailants who released him and his 2-year-old son.

Police said Vence’s story kept changing and didn’t add up. Authorities arrested Vence, who later told investigators he had dumped the girl’s remains close to a highway near Hope, Arkansas, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of the Texas-Arkansas border.

During a court hearing Thursday, Vence, 28, pleaded guilty to tampering with a corpse and injury to a child. If convicted by a jury, Vence could have faced up to life in prison.

An autopsy concluded Maleah died from “homicidal violence.” According to court records, authorities alleged Vence restricted Maleah’s airway with an unknown object and also hit the girl with a blunt object. Prosecutors did not file a murder charge in the case. In his confession, Vence said Maleah’s death was an accident.

“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.”