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Utah teenager charged in girl's death appears in court
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Utah teenager charged in girl’s death appears in court

Police officials gather during an investigation after a 12-year-old girl was found dead Friday, July 17, 2015, in West Valley City, Utah. The search for the missing 12-year-old girl is now being investigated as a homicide after West Valley City police discovered the girl's body in a horse pasture. Police Chief Lee Russo says the girl's mother approached two officers at a convenience store near their home around 1:30 a.m. Friday,July 17, 2015. She told officers her daughter had been missing since midnight. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (AP) — A Utah teenager accused of luring a 12-year-old neighbor girl from her home and strangling her made his first court appearance Wednesday, answering softly and nodding as a judge explained the charge against him.

The 15-year-old charged with aggravated murder was shackled, wore a dark green sweatshirt and appeared calm during the proceedings.

One of his attorneys, Patrick Corum, said he doesn’t think the boy understood what was happening and has instead learned to nod along. Corum didn’t elaborate on the teen’s mental state.

Prosecutors charged the teenager Tuesday, alleging in documents that he enticed Kailey Vijil from her house by knocking on her door and asking for help looking for a lost cat. Her body was found Friday in a field with a shirt around her neck.

The Associated Press is not naming the defendant because he is a juvenile.

Authorities say he also tried to lure at least one other young girl with a similar ruse in the Salt Lake City suburb of West Valley City about 20 minutes before he knocked on the door of Vijil’s home.

The teen’s neighbor, Stephanie Sala, said she has known his family about six years. The teen has quirks, like wandering the neighborhood and swearing in front of adults, but seemed like a typical kid, she said.

“Obviously something snapped, because he’s never showed any type of behavior that he was capable of anything like that,” she said.

Sala said the boy hollered over to her yard on Thursday to ask her 6-year-old niece to come out and play. Sala thought the request was odd and told him no, but she wasn’t alarmed.

The suburban West Valley City neighborhood includes older, well-kept homes. Purple ribbons honoring Vijil appeared on many houses.

The boy has a misdemeanor juvenile record of possession of drug paraphernalia, theft and burglary, dating to last fall, according to court papers.

He had served time in juvenile facilities and been put on probation less than two weeks before Vijil was killed, the documents show.

After he was arrested, the teen acknowledged being with Vijil in a field after she left home, authorities said.

He doesn’t appear to have known the victim before he knocked on her door that night, according to police.

Family members of the victim and the suspect appeared at Wednesday’s hearing but declined to speak with reporters.

The teen is being held on $1 million cash-only bail and is due back in court next month.

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