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Teen charged as adult in Colorado schoolgirl's murder, dismemberment

By Keith Coffman

GOLDEN, Colo. (Reuters) - A teenager who authorities said confessed to the abduction, killing and dismemberment of a 10-year-old Colorado girl was formally charged as an adult on Tuesday with first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault on a child.

Austin Sigg, 17, appeared in Jefferson County District Court to hear the charges against him in the slaying of Jessica Ridgeway as prosecutors for the first time accused him of sexually assaulting the schoolgirl.

Sigg also was charged with attempted murder, attempted sexual assault and attempted kidnapping in connection with the botched abduction of a 22-year-old woman near the girl's home months before the Ridgeway killing.

The community college student, who turns 18 in January, was charged with 17 counts related to the two crimes. Even though he was charged as an adult, Sigg is not eligible for the death penalty because he was a minor at the time of the murder.

Shackled and clad in green prison garb, Sigg did not speak during the brief hearing as a prosecutor read the charges against him.

Ridgeway vanished on her way to school in the Denver suburb of Westminster on October 5, triggering a frantic six-day search for the missing fifth-grader.

Police ultimately identified dismembered remains found about 10 miles from the Ridgeway home as those of the missing girl, and Sigg was arrested on October 24 after his mother turned him into police.

The girl's kidnapping and slaying drew national media attention, and it terrified parents in Westminster and surrounding areas, leading them to walk or drive their children to and from school and to keep youngsters from playing outdoors unattended.

Relatives of Ridgeway, all wearing the girl's favorite color of purple, sat on one side of the courtroom. They were separated from the Sigg family by sheriff's deputies.

Sigg's parents, who are divorced, both wept quietly during the hearing.

Despite prosecution of the teenager as an adult, public defender Mitch Ahnstedt told Jefferson County District Court Judge Stephen Munsinger that he will ask that the case be sent back to juvenile court, a request allowed under Colorado law.

The judge gave Ahnstedt seven days to request a hearing on that issue.

Citing a gag order imposed by the judge, neither prosecutors nor defense lawyers would comment after Tuesday's proceeding.

At an earlier hearing, prosecutor Hal Sargent said Sigg had confessed to the girl's slaying and that there was "overwhelming" evidence linking him to the killing.

Sigg remained held without bond at a juvenile detention facility until the issue of whether he will be tried as an adult is settled.

(Editing by Mary Slosson, Steve Gorman and Cynthia Osterman)

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