EFFINGHAM, Ill. (AP) - A 22 year old southern Illinois man accused of fatally stabbing his 7 year old niece won't go on trial until next year.
The Effingham Daily News reports an Effingham County judge on Monday tentatively scheduled Justin DeRyke's trial for February. But State's Attorney Bryan Kibler says it likely will be later than that because DeRyke's attorney has so many audio and video interviews to review.
DeRyke is accused of killing Willow Long in September near her home in Watson, a village about 100 miles northeast of St. Louis.
Investigators say DeRyke insisted he killed his niece to "put her out of her misery" after he says she fell onto a brush pile and pierced her neck.
DeRyke has pleaded not guilty and is jailed on $5 million bond.
Justin Deryke says he was just trying to put his 7-year-old niece "out of her misery" when he killed her over the weekend.
Officials say autopsy results contradict his story. Deryke claims he was watching a movie with Willow Long over the weekend when she allegedly scratched his arm. He became angry and chased Willow out of the house. He says she fell into a brush pile and a branch stabbed her in the neck. That is when Deryke says he got a knife and stabbed the girl to death.
The autopsy shows Willow had defensive wounds on her hands and that casts doubt on Deryke's story.
Willow's 3-year-old brother has been taken into protective custody.
The search for a missing a 7 year old Effingham County, Illinois girl will continue overnight.
Authorities and hundreds of volunteers have been looking for Willow Long since she disappeared from her Watson, Illinois home on Sunday. The Effingham County Sheriff's Department has sent the volunteers home for the night so that an Illinois State Police Flare Plane, which detects heat, won't pick up false readings during the overnight search.
Willow is about four-feet tall and weighs just 46 pounds. She has shoulder-length red hair and was wearing a long purple t-shirt as a nightgown. Willow's mother says she checked on the kids Sunday morning before taking a nap. When she woke up, Willow was gone.
The Effingham County Sheriff's Department is coordinating the search and investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact authorities at 217-342-2101.