In front of a few friends but with his mother and father conspicuously absent, an Indiana teenager pleaded not guilty Friday to murdering his 10-year-old brother. A few blocks away, the grieving couple greeted well-wishers who had come to pay respects to their slain younger son.
Andrew Conley, 17, was charged as an adult in Ohio Circuit Court with murdering his brother, Conner Conley, a decision supported by the boys parents, Shawn and Bridget Conley, said Dearborn-Ohio County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard. The teen showed no emotion and answered only basic questions during Friday's hearing. His attorney, Gary Sorge, entered a not guilty plea on his behalf, and left the courthouse without commenting to reporters.
"That was what I was expecting, given his demeanor throughout this whole thing," Negangard said after the hearing about the defendant's calm courtroom demeanor.
A few blocks away, the boys' parents and relatives greeted a steady stream of friends and well-wishers at the Markland Funeral Home who came to a viewing of Connor's body. The fifth-grader was dressed in a dark suit and lay in an open casket.
The boy's killing has left residents of this small Ohio River town 90 miles southeast of Indianapolis shaken and confused.
According to prosecutors, Andrew Conley, told investigators he strangled Conner while they were wrestling at their home Sunday, then drove his body to a park and dumped it. They say he said he did it to satisfy his craving to kill.
But townspeople asked about Andrew Friday described him as "nice," "normal," and "polite." A relative of the family, Debbie Snyder, said the Conleys were a "strong" and "balanced" family.
And school officials said the brothers were good students and had many friends. Andrew got As and Bs, was a member of the Spanish club and had no record of disciplinary problems.
But the Conleys withdrew Andrew from school on Nov. 16, just 12 days before Conner's body was found near a city park, Rising Sun-Ohio County Community Schools Superintendent Stephen Patz said Friday. He declined to say why, and the parents have not addressed the media.
Prosecutors, in an affidavit, said Andrew Conley showed no remorse when he entered the police station Sunday and announced that he had killed his brother. They said he described how he choked his younger brother, saying he strangled the boy to satisfy a craving like a hungry person eating a hamburger.
They also said Conley told investigators that killing his brother made him feel like the fictional television serial killer "Dexter," and that he had cut himself in the past.
Dr. Lisa Boesky, a San Diego child psychologist and expert on teen and child behavior, said the boy's alleged self-mutilation could have indicated he was suffering from depression or anxiety, or experiencing overwhelming emotions such as rage.
There are several similarities between the Conley case and the killing of a 9-year-old girl in Missouri six weeks ago. In that case, investigators say the 15-year-old suspect charged in the slaying told them she wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone, and that she had cut herself.
Boesky said young people who injure themselves do it to temporarily disperse those strong emotions and to "make themselves feel better." She said teens who kill nearly always have deep, underlying problems and that it was unlikely the television show influenced Conley's actions.
"It's rarely something that happens overnight," she said. "This is not caused by a television show or a fight with their parents. This is typically indicative of a serious disturbance. And clearly in cases like this, it indicates that something is seriously wrong."
A white cross stood Friday at the site in the park near where the body was found with the messages "In loving memory of" and "classmates of Conner 2009."
Jenkins, the pastor, said the case has been especially hard on Conner's fifth-grade classmates.
"You've got a class of 20 children and all of a sudden one of them is not there and they've been murdered and their face is all over TV and the story is all over the radio," he said.
Jenkins and Patz, the school superintendent, said it's impossible to make sense of the crime.
"Right now, I think everyone is just trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together and they aren't fitting," Patz said. "They may never fit."
Associated Press Writer Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed to this story.