BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama teenager pleaded guilty Tuesday in the death of his 9-year-old half-sister, who was hanged from a tree in their yard, but the motive remains a mystery to prosecutors more than three years later.
Court documents show John Dillon Salers, 18, pleaded guilty to murder in St. Clair County, about 30 miles east of Birmingham, and a judge sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
Salers could be released earlier since he got credit for jail time served and will be eligible for parole. Using uneven print, Salers signed a court document in which he stated no one had coerced him or promised him anything to plead guilty in the death of Katelynn Arnold in May 2012.
Media photos taken outside court showed an unsmiling Salers with closely cropped, dark hair and wearing a striped jail uniform.
Salers was only 14 when the girl was found hanging in a tall hardwood outside the rural home they shared with relatives in Ragland.
Authorities at the time said the girl was outside playing when her aunt realized she was missing. She went outside to find the child hanging from a tree by a cotton rope that once held a tire swing.
Salers went to bed afterward, and police awoke the youth to question him and place him under arrest. He was initially charged as an adult with capital murder but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge.
Court documents do not indicate a motive for the killing, and prosecutor Lamar Williamson said it was still unclear why the girl was killed.
While an investigation showed that Salers and schoolmates had said some things that concerned the girl, Williamson said, Salers hasn’t explained his actions.
“He did not say why he did it,” Williamson said.
A defense attorney did not immediately return messages seeking comment.