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updated: 3/19/2014 12:45 AM

Man pleads guilty in stabbing death of niece

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Associated Press

EFFINGHAM, Ill. -- A southern Illinois man has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the 2013 stabbing death of his 7-year-old niece.

Justin DeRyke was accused of killing Willow Long in September near her home in Watson, about 100 miles northeast of St. Louis.

The girl was reported missing by her mother, Ciara DeRyke, on the morning of Sept. 8, triggering a search by about 1,000 volunteers. Four of the volunteers taking part in the search found her body near the 730-resident village, where DeRyke also lived.

The 22-year-old DeRyke told investigators he killed his niece to "put her out of her misery" after he says she fell onto a brush pile and pierced her neck.

The Effingham Daily News reports ( Judge Kimberly Koester accepted DeRyke's guilty plea during a Tuesday hearing.

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