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Teens Charged in Killing Mildly Retarded, Relatives Say

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BURLINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Authorities have gathered important parts of the investigation into the slaying and sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl - suspects and the weapon. But the reason for the brutal killing still is a mystery.

``What the motive is in this killing eludes me,'' Alamance County District Attorney Rob Johnson said Thursday. ``This kind of a crime just defies description as to why it would happen.''

Harold Wesley Jones, 16, and Dorthia D. Bynum, 17, and a 13-year-old boy each were charged with first-degree murder, sexual assault and kidnapping.

Relatives said the two teens were mildly retarded and incapable of slaying Tiffany Nicole Long, 10, who disappeared late last Friday. Her body was found Saturday near an empty cottage being renovated a few blocks away from her home.

The teens did walk past Tiffany's home when they lived in the cottage with a number of other people, neighbors said, and would talk to Tiffany. The three later moved to an apartment several miles away.

``He cannot comprehend,'' sister and guardian Al-Neisa Jones, 23, said of Jones. ``He knows that killing is wrong. But that boy can't kill a bug.''

She contended police intimidated her brother and Dorthia, who went to the police station voluntarily for an interview. She also said the 13-year-old is Harold Jones' nephew.

Rodessa Bynum said her daughter ``has always been slow ... a little mental'' but never posed a threat to anyone.

Johnson said he was confident police had arrested the right people, but declined to discuss evidence.

The prosecutor also dismissed suggestions that there might have been a racial motive for the killing. The victim was white and the three teens are black, but live in a mixed race working-class neighborhood in northwest Burlington.

Police have the murder weapon, but Johnson wouldn't disclose what it was. He did say it wasn't a nail-studded 2-by-4, trying to quash a rumor circulating in the community.

A first-appearance hearing was closed to the public because of security concerns expressed by District Court Judge Spencer Ennis

Journalists and dozens of relatives of both the victims and suspects filled a courtroom for what was expected to be a morning hearing until Ennis abruptly told them there would be nothing to see.

Ennis also said he was having trouble locating lawyers to represent the three defendants. By the time the hearing was held in a secured room in the jail-courthouse complex, lawyers had been found to represent the teens.

Legal representation was a concern of Ms. Jones, who stood in the court hallway worrying about what was happening to the teens.

``It's just depressing,'' she said. ``We don't have the top-of-the-line lawyers, the top-of-the-line funds, to prove these three children are innocent.''

Johnson said the county's list of lawyers who will accept court-appointed cases was very short, and that several asked to be removed the day of the hearing.

The prosecutor said he may seek the death penalty against Bynum, the only one old enough for capital punishment. The law requires that two attorneys be appointed for anyone facing the death penalty.

Johnson wouldn't comment on the relatives' statements about Bynum and Jones having mental problems and possibly being pressured into saying they committed the killings.

But he did say the crime was unprecedented in the county.

``In this county, we have not had a case of this type,'' he said. ``It's very unsettling.''

Residents of the area were concerned that the killing may have been the work of a stranger.

``A lot of folks in Alamance County wondered if there was a predator stalking their children,'' Johnson said. ``These youngsters were acquaintances. They knew each other.''

Two attorneys each were appointed to Jones and Bynum. The judge delayed their first-appearance hearing twice because he was having trouble finding lawyers to take the job. Several lawyers who accept court-appointed cases asked to be removed from the list.

Johnson wouldn't comment on the relatives' statements about Bynum and Jones having mental problems and possibly being pressured into saying they committed the killings.

Tiffany's grandmother and legal guardian, Nancy Long, made a short public statement Thursday afternoon at the Burlington police station, where she asked the media and the public to respect the family's privacy.

``Tiffany was a very happy child who loved people and loved life,'' she said. ``I want everyone listening and watching to know that we loved Tiffany very much and miss Tiffany very much.''

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