A desire to steal video games apparently was the motive behind the fatal shooting of a man and his 7-year-old niece, who affectionately called one of the suspects "Uncle Mike," an Indiana prosecutor said Thursday after two men were formally charged with the crime.
Kyleigh Crane's mother and her grandmother _ the mother of 21-year-old Jeremy Crane _ sat quietly with other relatives and showed little reaction as longtime family friend Michael Bell, 21, was led into court after co-defendant Jeremy Priel, 25, was charged.
An older man seated with about a dozen relatives and friends of the victims shook his lowered head and rubbed his eyes as the men were arraigned.
Marion Superior Judge Lisa Borges entered a not guilty plea on behalf of both men. Borges also appointed public defenders for them and set a tentative Feb. 27 trial date. Both men face two counts each of murder, felony murder and handgun-related charges, and one robbery count in the Dec. 12 killings.
The slayings in Cumberland, a town on Indianapolis' far east side, occurred in the home of Jeremy Crane's parents _ where Bell had lived for a few months earlier this year and had for years been essentially a member of the family.
Crane's mother, Cathy Crane, has said Bell had been a close friend of son's since the eighth-grade and was so close with the family Kyleigh and her 5-year-old brother, Brayden, would run to greet him during visits, calling him "Uncle Mike."
"He'd been around since the day they were born," she said. "Whenever they would show up for a visit and I said `Uncle Mike is here,' they'd run inside to see him."
Deputy prosecutor Denise Robinson said after Thursday's hearing that "robbery pure and simple" appears to be the motive in the killings. She did not elaborate on what allegedly motivated Bell and Priel to commit the robbery that ended in two killings.
"Sometimes it comes down to that really _ it comes down to a Playstation and an Xbox sometimes," Robinson told reporters.
If convicted of all charges, Bell and Priel could each face between 45 years and 156 years in prison, she said.
A message seeking comment was left for Bell's court-appointed attorney, Mike Day. Priel's court-appointed attorney, Daniel Grove declined comment after Thursday's hearing.
Authorities allege in a probable cause affidavit that the men stole an Xbox, a Playstation 3 among other items from the home and that Priel later sold the Playstation for $40 and the Xbox for an ounce of marijuana. That filing also said a surveillance camera filmed the pair boarding a city bus not long after the slayings, one carrying a full backpack, the other a bundle of items wrapped in something.
The filing also said one of the men is seen trying to wipe his prints off of a gun, and that a 9-millimeter handgun used in the slayings was found in the home of one of Bell's aunts, in a bedroom used by a woman witnesses said Bell was romantically involved with.
Cumberland Police Chief Michael Crooke said Wednesday that each man is accusing the other in the killings.
Robinson said forensic tests are pending that could determine which of the two men was the gunman, but even if that cannot be proven with evidence both men will still face the same charges.
"It's not required to prove who pulled the trigger. Under Indiana law both are equally culpable," she said.
The Crane family, which has spoken to reporters in the days since the killings, did not comment after Thursday's hearing and Robinson said the family asked to be escorted by deputies from the court to avoid the media.
"It's just a trying time _ they just buried their family members and now they're here starting the court process which is overwhelming for anyone who's not been involved with it," she said.
Bell and Priel, who are being held without bond, are accused of entering the home of Jeremy Crane's parents and shooting Crane and his niece, who he was caring for because the child was out sick from school. Both were fatally shot in the head _ the child once, her uncle twice.
Kyleigh, a cherubic redhead who was a first-grader at Liberty Park Elementary School, loved to dance and was involved in gymnastics, her grandmother said.
Linda Wise, a spokeswoman for Warren Township Schools, said the district is mourning the deaths of both Kyleigh and her uncle, who graduated a few years ago from Warren Central High School.
"All of us in the district are grieving. We're thinking about both of them and keeping them in our hearts," Wise said.