Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

September 19, 2013

DeRyke pleads not guilty to niece's murder

Bill Grimes
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — Jury selection in the case of a Watson man accused of stabbing his niece to death earlier this month was set for Dec. 2 during a brief Thursday afternoon hearing in Effingham County Circuit Court.

But State's Attorney Bryan Kibler admitted to reporters after the hearing that it was "highly unlikely" that Justin D DeRyke would face a jury in December because of the complexity of the case.

"It's hypothetically possible the case could go that soon," Kibler said. But he added the case is still being heavily investigated by a variety of agencies, making it likely that any trial would be sometime in 2014, if then.

DeRyke, 22, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the death of Willow Long, 7, on or about Sept. 8. Willow's body was found south of Watson on the evening of Sept. 9 by some of the more than 1,000 people who turned out to look for the missing girl.

DeRyke pleaded not guilty to all three counts against him. Under Illinois law, a person can be charged with multiple counts of murder per victim.

In this case, DeRyke is accused of stabbing Willow with the intent to kill her; stabbing her knowing that the act would be fatal; and stabbing her in the clavicle knowing that such an act caused a strong probability of death.

Because of the respective ages of DeRyke and the victim, DeRyke could be subject to life in prison without the possibility of parole, or "natural life," as it is called under Illinois law.

Judge Sherri Tungate set pretrial for 11 a.m. Oct. 22. 

Kibler declined to speculate on whether additional people would be arrested in connection with Willow's death, noting that the investigation was ongoing.

DeRyke is the younger brother of Willow's mother, Ciara DeRyke.

DeRyke is being held at Effingham County Jail in lieu of $5 million bond.