EFFINGHAM, Ill. (WTHI) – UPDATE 5 PM The Willow Long case culminated Tuesday in Effingham, Illinois.
The body of the 7-year-old girl was found by searchers in a shallow pond near her hometown of Watson. Her uncle, 22-year-old Justin DeRyke, stands accused of stabbing her to death.
It was a huge day for Effingham County State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler and the entire community who worked tirelessly for Willow.
At a pretrial conference, DeRyke plead guilty to first degree murder. He admitted to stabbing his 7-year-old niece to death.
DeRyke told police she was pulling on his arm and asking him to watch TV with her. He said that caused him to bleed, so he got angry and ran after Willow.
That’s when this story gets odd.
DeRyke told police she fell on a brush pile and was impaled in the throat by a stick. He said he stabbed her to death to end her misery.
Judge Kimberly Koester sentenced DeRyke to life in prison without parole, the maximum sentence allowed by Illinois law.
“We weren’t going to settle for anything else but that, because that’s what the case warranted, natural life without the possibility of parole,” said Effingham County State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler. “And he plead guilty because he is guilty. The evidence was overwhelming, because law enforcement was great.”
The Illinois State Police led the investigation and the Effingham County Sheriff’s and Coroner’s offices assisted.
Kibler was also asked about the cost savings that comes with this guilty plea. He estimates a trial would have cost six figures, easily.
This trial most likely would have required a change of venue, which significantly drives up the cost of any trial. But also, as Judge Koester said in court, this guilty plea saves the family from going through an emotional trial.
UPDATE 3:50 PM Justin DeRyke has plead guilty to first degree murder in the death of Willow Long.
He admitted to murdering his 7-year-old niece on Sept. 7. The plea deal called for a prison sentence of life without parole.
An Effingham County Grand Jury indicted DeRyke on Sept. 18 charging that he, “without legal justification, and with the intent to kill, stabbed Willow Long in the clavicle . . . thereby causing the death of Willow Long.”
Willow’s body was found wrapped in plastic and duct tape on Sept. 9 by volunteer searchers. She was in a shallow pond south of Watson, Ill. where Willow lived with her grandparents, mother and uncle (Justin).
DeRyke has been held in custody since confessing to the murder hours after volunteer searchers found the child’s body.
“Justin DeRyke’s plea of guilty to the offense of First Degree Murder means that society will be protected, and the murderer will spend the rest of his life behind bars,” said Bryan
M. Kibler, State’s Attorney of Efflngham county, who prosecuted the matter. “Justin DeRyke will never again pose a threat to any child.”
Tuesday was previously scheduled as a pretrial and his guilty pea will avoid the April 7 trial date.