BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — A 36-year-old New York man was ordered held without bail Thursday in what authorities say was the brutal rape of an 11-year-old Morris girl who was smothered to death.
James Brower of Norwich is charged with first-degree murder.
During a 10-minute arraignment, Brower — dressed in orange prison wear and shackled by the arms and the feet — entered a plea of not guilty. He was largely expressionless except for nodding his head sideways when Chenango County Court Judge Frank Revior read the details of the crime from the felony complaint.
Brower spoke only when he asked for representation from the county's public defender. He faces life without parole if convicted, District Attorney Joseph McBride said.
During the hearing McBride said an autopsy determined the caused of death of Jacelyn O'Connor as asphyxiation "due to smothering."
Brower was connected to the victim through a distant family relationship, according to Brad Keater, a family minister. The victim was the half-sibling of the defendant’s two sons, he said.
Jacelyn "was a bright, spunky loved student at Morris Central School. We are all deeply saddened by this loss. It is a tragedy that is difficult to comprehend for us all," according to the school's Facebook page.
A candlelight vigil is planned at the school Monday, the school reported.
A felony hearing for Brower is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Town of Norwich Court.
The slaying occurred early Sunday morning at a residence in Norwich, according to a felony complaint filed by the New York State Police. Authorities charged Brower with first-degree murder on Tuesday night.
Keater said Brower's extended family was in the court, and some were visibly shaken by the charges against their relative. His custodial mother broke down following the hearing, a relative said.