A south Jersey teenager has been sentenced to 17 years in prison for killing a young girl who disappeared while riding her bike last year.
The plea deal for 16-year-old Justin Robinson was upheld in a New Jersey courtroom Thursday as friends and family of the victim looked on.
"The feeling of sadness that pervades this courthouse, this county, this community, a sentence can't begin to address that," Jamie Kaigh, attorney for Autumn's mother Jennifer Cornwell, said after the sentence was handed down.
Robinson pleaded guilty in adult court last month to aggravated manslaughter, saying he alone strangled 12-year-old Autumn Pasquale last October in Clayton.
Police say Autumn was riding her bike to a friend's house when Justin and his older brother Dante lured the girl into their home with the promise of trading bike parts.
Two days after she disappeared, Autum's body was found in a recyling bin near the boys' home.
Both were both charged with murder.
"Autumn's death was senseless and it shook the community to its core. There will never be punishment commensurate with her brutal killing," said Camden County Prosecutoe Warren W. Faulk.
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.
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.
Friends and family rallied outside the courthouse in Woodbury this morning.
"The rally is to raise awareness for justice for Autumn," says rally organizer Jessica Gearhart. "He [the judge] has a history of really caring about the victim's familes, so we're just hoping to get as much as we possibily can."