EFFINGHAM — Justin D. DeRyke pled guilty Tuesday to the stabbing death of his niece, 7-year-old Willow Long of Watson in September of 2013.
According to Effingham County State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler, DeRyke’s guilty plea was accepted by the Honorable Kimberly G. Koester, Circuit Judge, who pronounced a mandatory life sentence, without the possibility of parole, on the 22-year-old defendant.
DeRyke has been held in custody since confessing to the murder hours after volunteer searchers found the child’s body in a pond south of Watson in Effingham County. An Effingham County Grand Jury indicted DeRyke on September 18, 2013, 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.”
“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 Kibler. “The sentence in this case is the maximum allowed by law.”
“Justin DeRyke will never again pose a threat to any child,” Kibler said.
Kibler credited local agents Tim Brown and Jeff Kline of the Illinois State Police, the Effingham County Sheriff’s Department, and Effingham County Coroner Duane Guffey, among a multitude of law enforcement officers, who worked to resolve the case.
Kibler also credited the thousands of volunteers who came forward to assist in the September 2013 search efforts for the child.
“Our hearts were broken by the discover of Willow Long’s body,” said Kibler, “But, the way that the good citizens of Effingham County reached out to one another in the seach for this innocent child will never be forgotten.”