Justin DeRyke, who was arrested earlier this month for the murder of his 7-year-old niece Willow Long, has pleaded not guilty to three counts of first-degree murder during his arraignment Thursday in Effingham, KMOV reports.
Long went missing on September 7 and was found two days later wrapped in plastic under a bridge, her throat slashed and her hands covered in defensive wounds. DeRyke acted strangely from the moment his cousin was reported missing and was arrested shortly after the discovery of her body.
He ultimately gave police a bizarre and disturbing confession, in which he admitted to stabbing the little girl while claiming it began as an accident.
In his alleged confession, DeRyke, 22, told police that he chased Willow outside their house after she had scratched him, drawing blood. During the chase the girl tripped and fell, causing a stick to impale her neck. He said that "he had to end her suffering," according to a probable cause report. DeRyke then allegedly got a knife, slashed her throat and stabbed her in the heart about five times.
On Wednesday a grand jury indicted DeRyke on three first-degree murder charges and faces life in prison if convicted. DeRyke has a public defender and pleaded not guilty.
Daily RFT has reached out to Effingham County State's Attorney's Office and we'll update if we hear back. DeRyke's pretrial is set for October 22.