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Illinois Man Pleads Guilty In Niece’s Murder

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Willow Long's body was discovered near her Illinois hometown in September days after hundreds of volunteers scoured the area searching for the missing 7 year old.

Willow Long’s body was discovered near her Illinois hometown in September days after hundreds of volunteers scoured the area searching for the missing 7 year old.

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 prosecutors charged Justin D. DeRyke, 22, with three counts of first-degree murder.

Effingham County prosecutors charged Justin D. DeRyke, 22, with three counts of first-degree murder.

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.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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