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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.

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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 (http://bit.ly/1j0Shht) Judge Kimberly Koester accepted DeRyke's guilty plea during a Tuesday hearing.

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