Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

September 18, 2013

Uncle indicted on niece's murder

Bill Grimes
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — An Effingham County grand jury indicted Wednesday the Watson man accused of murdering his niece earlier this month.

State's Attorney Bryan Kibler said in a news release that Justin D. DeRyke, 22, has been indicted on three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the stabbing death of Willow Long, 7. Searchers found Willow south of Watson Sept. 9 after a massive two-day search that included more than 1,000 volunteers and first responders. 

While DeRyke was indicted in connection with only one death, the three counts specify different ways in which the suspect may have caused the little girl's death.

Kibler said DeRyke faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted on any one of the three counts.

DeRyke is scheduled to appear in Judge Sherri Tungate's courtroom at 1 p.m. Thursday on the second floor of the Effingham County Government Center. Public Defender Scott Schmidt has been appointed to represent the defendant.

DeRyke is the younger brother of Willow's mother, Ciara DeRyke. While no charges have been filed against any other family member, Kibler said the Sheriff's Department and Illinois State Police continue to investigate Willow's disappearance and death and all surrounding circumstances.