GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) — Prosecutors said Thursday a Colorado teenager confessed to killing a 10-year-old girl who lived less than a mile from his home — a crime that authorities previously said was probably committed by someone known to the small community of Westminster.
In addition, prosecutor Hal Sargent said 17-year old Austin Reed Sigg acknowledged a separate attack in May on a female runner by a stranger who grabbed her from behind and put a rag that smelled of chemicals over her mouth.
Police have said the two crimes were connected but didn’t elaborate. Authorities also said they had DNA evidence to prove their case.
Seven of Jessica Ridgeway’s family members sat with their arms around each other as Sigg made his first appearance in a heavily guarded courtroom in Golden. Sigg glanced in their direction just once.
Four of his family members also were in court, and they occasionally sobbed during the hearing.
Sigg, who wore a blue-green jail uniform and had a light goatee, mostly sat with his head bowed. At one point he spoke to the judge, saying in a high-pitched voice, “I don’t understand what that … ” before breaking off when one of his attorneys began speaking to him.
When District Judge Ann Gail Meinster asked Sigg if a parent was present, he said yes and looked toward his relatives.
In the audience, Jessica’s mother, Sarah Ridgeway, wore a purple ribbon in her hair. Purple was Jessica’s favorite color, and purple ribbons and balloons have become a symbol of remembrance for her family and the public.
Sigg is being held without bail on suspicion of murder and kidnapping in the death of Jessica, and attempted murder and attempted kidnapping in the case of the runner. Prosecutors are expected to formally charge him next week.
Jessica disappeared three weeks ago after leaving her home in the Denver suburb to walk to school. She never arrived. Her remains were found on Oct. 10.
Sigg was taken into custody late Tuesday after police received a phone call, apparently from his mother Mindy Sigg, who later told The Associated Press in a phone interview that he turned himself in.
“I made the phone call, and he turned himself in. That’s all I have to say,” she said before breaking down in tears and hanging up.
Authorities have released few details about their investigation, and court documents have been sealed. A police custody report said Sigg was cooperative when he was arrested and waived his rights, though his public defenders said during the hearing that the waivers had been revoked.
Public defender Ryan Loewer had argued for setting bail for Sigg, saying he has no prior criminal history. Prosecutor Hal Sargent said Sigg had confessed and that investigators had a strong case.
“There’s DNA evidence, and the evidence is overwhelming,” he said.
After the hearing, Jefferson County District Attorney Scott Storey said prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty for Sigg because, at age 17, he is a minor.
Under Colorado law, juveniles can be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of murder but it would be up to a judge to determine whether that’s appropriate.
In addition, defendants in such cases would be eligible for parole in 40 years, said Jeanne Smith, former El Paso County prosecutor and director of the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice.
Storey declined to discuss the possibility that Sigg might enter an insanity plea.
Former high school classmates painted a picture of Sigg as an intelligent teen who often wore black and complained about school but who would stay late sometimes to work on computers.
Sigg was interested in mortuary science and was taking forensics classes, said Rachel Bradley, 17, who attended Standley Lake High School with him.
At the time of his arrest, Sigg was enrolled at Arapahoe Community College, which offers the state’s only accredited mortuary science program.
Sigg left Standley Lake High in July after finishing the 11th grade and later earned a GED. School officials don’t know why he left.
Yearbooks showed Sigg was a member of the choir in his freshman and sophomore years.
Former schoolmate Sarah Morevec said Sigg had been bullied for having a high voice.
Elliott reported from Denver. Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt in Denver contributed to this report.