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Thomas Lawton Evans, 37, appears in early March for a state court hearing. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

A recently released prison inmate pleaded not guilty Friday to federal charges alleging he kidnapped and assaulted a 4-year-old Charleston girl, taking her to Alabama.

Thomas Lawton Evans, 37, appeared in U.S. District Court in Charleston, his hands and legs shackled. Striped jail clothes covered his thin frame. A tattoo of a compass encircled his right elbow.

He said little during the arraignment other than "yes, your honor" in answering questions before Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant.

Evans is charged with kidnapping, transportation of a minor to engage in sexual activity and aggravated sexual abuse. He faces up to life in prison.

The Post and Courier does not name victims of sex crimes or their family members.

Evans, a stranger to the victims, is accused of attacking the girl's mother as the family returned to their Johns Island home on Feb. 13. He badly beat and sexually assaulted the mother before fleeing with the child, Charleston police have said.

The girl was rescued the next day in Alabama after passersby saw Evans asleep in a car with the child. Evans was arrested after a police chase that ended in Mississippi.

Evans had already faced seven charges in state court before a federal grand jury indicted him earlier this week.

The felon left prison less than two weeks before the kidnapping and was supposed to spend the rest of a 10-year robbery sentence on community supervision. He was spotted two days before the abduction in Berkeley County, where deputies said he had a car belonging to a woman who lived in the same Upstate community where Evans had been staying.

The whereabouts of the woman, 39-year-old Sharon Hayden of Boiling Springs, remain uncertain.

Reach Andrew Knapp at 843-937-5414. Follow him on Twitter @offlede.

Andrew Knapp is editor of the quick response team, which covers crime, courts and breaking news. He previously worked as a reporter and copy editor at Florida Today, Newsday and Bangor (Maine) Daily News. He enjoys golf, weather and fatherhood.