EFFINGHAM – The mother of a 7-year-old southern Illinois girl who authorities say was stabbed to death by her uncle made her first court appearance Tuesday on a misdemeanor obstruction charge of lying to investigators.
Ciara DeRyke, arrested Monday, was appointed to be represented by a public defender on the obstruction of a peace officer count related to the time she last saw daughter Willow Long alive in their Watson home, the Effingham Daily News reported.
Investigators say DeRyke insisted she saw the girl watching television the morning of Sept. 8, although authorities say the child actually had been killed hours earlier. Her body, wrapped in several garbage bags and sealed with duct tape, was found the next day near a river near Watson, a 730-resident village about 100 miles northeast of St. Louis.
Bryan Kibler, Effingham County's state's attorney, said he believes DeRyke did not participate in the killing or any efforts to conceal it but lied to investigators about seeing her daughter to appear to be a better mother, covering for the fact she had been out the night of the killing.
"She was trying to make herself look like a better parent," Kibler said.
The prosecutor also said DeRyke's deception thwarted the search for the girl, leading investigators and volunteers to construct a narrower search grid taking into account the time the girl would have been missing and how far she could have gone.
"That grid was based on false information," Kibler said.
DeRyke's brother, Justin DeRyke, has been charged with first-degree murder in Willow's death and remains jailed on $5 million bond.
Authorities said Justin DeRyke, 22, insisted to investigators he stabbed his niece in the chest to "put her out of her misery" after she fell onto a brush pile and pierced her neck with a stick near the family's home. DeRyke had been babysitting the girl and her 3-year-old brother.
Kibler has said an autopsy showed Willow sustained numerous knife wounds, including a slashed throat and a fatal stab wound that severed a vein. He said cuts on her hands suggested there was a struggle, and a probable-cause statement made no mention of autopsy findings that any neck wounds were caused by a stick.
Until Monday, Kibler had sidestepped discussing Ciara DeRyke's claim that she fell asleep after seeing her daughter watching TV, and that when she awoke Willow was gone. That version contradicted Justin DeRyke's account that the girl already was dead when the mother claimed to have seen her.
Prosecutors say they're seeking a life sentence for Justin DeRyke, who is represented by a public defender and has pleaded not guilty. His trial is scheduled to begin in February.
Ciara DeRyke was jailed Tuesday on $75,000 bond.
The misdemeanor count is punishable by up to a year in jail.