A 14-year-old Newhall boy pleaded innocent Wednesday to charges that he strangled 7-year-old Sara Nan Hodges, whose decomposing body was found stuffed behind a water bed in his bedroom.
Curtis Cooper, a neighbor of the victim, denied a single count of murder at his arraignment in Sylmar Juvenile Court.
Cooper was ordered by Juvenile Court Referee Jeff Wiatt to remain in custody without bail and to return to court April 25 to schedule a hearing date.
If convicted, the boy could be sentenced to confinement at the California Youth Authority until he is 25 years old.
Sheriff’s Sgt. David Horton said investigators believe that the girl was killed by the suspect in his bedroom before she was reported missing last Thursday from her rural Santa Clarita Valley neighborhood.
Stuffed Behind Bed
It appeared likely that her body had already been stuffed behind a water bed in Cooper’s bedroom when investigators made a superficial search of the room Thursday, Horton said.
Investigators did not spot the girl’s body, and a massive land and air search continued until Sunday, when the corpse was finally found in the house in the 24900 block of Alderbrook Drive.
The body was discovered by the owner of the house, who was searching the residence for the source of a sickening odor.
Cooper, who lived in rented rooms at the house with his mother, was sitting on the mattress crying. A fan was turned on in the room, apparently to blow the odor of the body out an open window.
“He was crying and he said, ‘I didn’t do it,’ ” said Terry Horner, an acquaintance who helped the owner of the house search for the odor.
Girl Had Been Strangled
A coroner’s autopsy determined Monday that the girl had been strangled, but investigators are still trying to determine if she was sexually molested.
Horton said that Cooper, who had been living with his father in Florida until earlier this year, was a “recent acquaintance” of the victim and that the two had gone horseback riding together.
Horton said detectives sought the formal murder charge against the suspect based on physical evidence and statements he made. Horton would not discuss the evidence or the statements.
He also declined to speculate on a motive for the slaying.
Sara had been living in a house on Alderbrook Drive for about six weeks with her mother Linda, her sister Tisha, 16, and her mother’s boyfriend. The family shared the home with another family.