EFFINGHAM COUNTY, Ill. (KMOX) – A central Illinois man admitted he killed his niece and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Justin DeRyke, 22, appeared in court on Tuesday and changed his plea from not guilty to guilty in the murder of his 7-year-old niece Willow Long.
Originally, DeRyke had claimed the girl fell on a stick that pierced her neck, so he stabbed her repeatedly to end her suffering.
Effingham County State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler says there was no mention in court of any possible motive.
“I think we’ll never completely have the answers for this heinous, horrible incident,” Kibler said.
KMOX asked if there was any indication that Willow Long was sexually assaulted.
Kibler replied, “We’re just not discussing that at this time because we think it would be disrespectful to everyone involved in the case.”
Kibler said DeRyke looked blank faced and resigned to his fate when the judge sentenced him to spend the rest of his days in prison.
DeRyke was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Willow Long on Sept. 11, 2013. He told investigators his niece accidentally fell onto a brush pile and a stick went through her neck near the family’s home in Watson, Ill. on Sept. 8. DeRyke said he stabbed her to end her suffering.
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