(CBS/AP) EFFINGHAM, Ill. - The Illinois man who allegedly told investigators he killed his 7-year-old niece to end her suffering after a stick impaled her neck has pleaded not guilty in her murder, CBS affiliate KMOV reports.
Justin DeRyke, 22, was charged Sept. 11 with first-degree murder in the death of Willow Long. Prosecutors say DeRyke told investigators he killed his niece to end her suffering after she accidentally fell onto a brush pile Sept. 8 and pierced her neck with a stick near the family's Watson, Ill. home.
Wednesday afternoon, a grand jury indicted DeRyke on three counts in Long's murder, according to a statement from the Effingham County State's Attorney's office. Each count charges DeRyke with first-degree murder.
DeRyke appeared in court Thursday at 1 p.m. for an arraignment, reports the station. Prosecutors reportedly plan to seek a sentence of life in prison.
A judge set a Dec. 2 trial date, reports the Effingham Daily News, though prosecutors reportedly said it's "highly unlikely" the case will go to trial that quickly because of its complexity.
The Illinois state Department of Children and Family Services is also investigating DeRyke,along with DeRyke's mother.
The investigations were launched on Sept. 8 -- the same day the girl was reported missing -- after someone called a DCFS hotline to report allegations of neglect and abuse. Two allegations of neglect were reported against the girl's mother, Ciarra DeRyke, and one allegation of abuse was reported against Justin DeRyke, he the spokesman said.
Effingham County State's Attorney Bryan Kibler told Crimesider there are no criminal charges against Ciarra DeRyke "at this time." The criminal investigation is still in its early stages and it's not clear whether more charges will be filed in the case, he said.
Justin DeRyke lived with his parents, Dale and Deborah DeRyke, his sister, Ciarra DeRyke, and Ciarra DeRyke's two children, reported Fox2 in St. Louis.On the evening of Sept. 7, Dale and Deborah DeRyke, who are truck drivers, were on the road, reports the station. The children's mother reportedly went to a bar and left her two children in the care of their uncle, Justin DeRyke.
DeRyke told investigators he was home alone with Willow and her three-year-old brother Saturday night when Willow accidentally scratched him, according to court documents obtained by CBS affiliate KMOX. This reportedly angered him and caused him to yell at Willow which in turn led her to run out of the house and towards a brush pile in the family's backyard.
DeRyke said he chased after her, but she tripped and fell into the brush pile causing a stick to impale her neck, the station reports, according to the documents.
DeRyke reportedly told police Willow began to twitch and he believed he had to end her suffering, so he grabbed a knife out of his bedroom, slit her throat and then stabbed her in the heart approximately five times.
According to court documents, DeRyke then told police he put Willow's body into several plastic bags and secured the bags with duct tape. Afterwards, DeRyke said he disposed Willow's body in a rural area south of Watson, Illinois.
An autopsy revealed that her throat had been slashed. Smaller stab wounds were also discovered near her collarbone and neck. Doctors also found defensive wounds on Willow's hands, according to KMOX.
A funeral was held for the girl Monday.