(KMOV) -- A grand jury in southern Illinois has indicted a man on charges that he stabbed his 7-year-old niece to death.
Justin DeRyke, 22, is accused of murdering Willow Long in Effingham County early last week.
According to Bryan Kibler, the Effingham County State’s Attorney, DeRyke will be indicted on three first-degree murder charges.
Officials said 16 to 21 jurors heard details of the case. Kibler said there will most likely be a unanimous vote to indict him.
Despite that, Kibler said he expects DeRyke’s public defender to enter a not guilty plea during the arraignment Thursday afternoon.
Police said the body of Long—who was reported missing on Sept. 8--was found by four search volunteers in an area south of Watson around 7:30 p.m. near the Little Wabash River a day later.
According to court documents, DeRyke told officers he was home alone watching Long and her brother when the alleged incident occurred. Police said Long’s mother was at a local bar and her grandparents were out of town.
DeRyke told police he spent most of the evening in his room playing video games. When he left the room to go to the bathroom, he said Long tugged on his arm and asked him to watch a movie with her. During the exchange, DeRyke said the girl accidentally scratched his arm, causing it to bleed.
He reportedly got upset and yelled at Long, which caused her to run into the front yard. According to his statement, DeRyke said she then fell on a brush pile, causing a stick to impale her in the neck.
DeRyke said he wanted to end her suffering.
Prosecutors said he then slit her throat before stabbing her in the heart and throat. Police said DeRyke put the girl’s body in a plastic bag, duct taped it and dumped it in the Little Wabash River.
According to police, an autopsy concluded Long’s throat had been slashed, and she had stab wounds on her collarbone and neck, as well as defensive wounds on her hands.
Many of DeRyke’s family were in attendance at an initial court hearing Sept. 11 to show their support for the murder suspect and victim. Many volunteers who helped with Long’s search efforts were also on hand.
DeRyke was arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder in Long’s death. His bond was set at $5 million.