WOODBURY, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey teenager was sentenced Thursday to 17 years in state prison for the slaying of a 12-year-old girl who disappeared last year after going for a bike ride.
Justin Robinson, 16, pleaded guilty in August to aggravated manslaughter, saying he alone killed Autumn Pasquale, whose disappearance last October set off a massive search in Clayton, a small town 25 miles southeast of Philadelphia.
Her body was found stuffed in a recycling bin near Robinson's family's home about 48 hours after she was reported missing.
Initially, Robinson and his brother, Dante, who was 17 at the time, were charged with murder.
Prosecutors said complications in the case led them to cut a plea deal with Justin Robinson on a lesser charge.
First, because Justin Robinson was 15 when the crime was committed and had what authorities called "diminished capacity," it was not certain that his case would have been moved to adult court. If he had been convicted of murder in juvenile court, he could have had a chance of parole in less than seven years. With his plea deal in adult court, he will have to serve at least 14 years before being eligible for parole.
Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk said there was no clear evidence other than the boy's admission that it was he and not his brother who choked the girl to death.
The murder charge against Dante Robinson remains in place in family court, where the records are sealed.
Authorities had credited a tip from the suspects' mother with helping them solve the case. They said she saw something in one of their Facebook posts that gave her cause to call police. The call led them to the body and her sons.
Initially, some of the victim's relatives complained about the search for the girl and the way Gloucester County prosecutors handled the case, which was eventually moved to the Camden County prosecutor's office.
Pasquale's parents, who are divorced, later had a legal squabble over money raised to help their families, but they eventually reached a settlement over that dispute.