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Wadda pleads not guilty in Montana murder case

Apr 3, 2014 - By Matthew Brown, The Associated Press

One of two suspects in the killing of a single mother on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of murder and aggravated sexual abuse.

Clad in white prison garb and shackles, Garrett Sidney Wadda entered his plea at a hearing attended by dozens of relatives of victim Hanna Harris, 21, who disappeared on July 4. Her body was found four days later southwest of Lame Deer.

Wadda was arrested in Wyoming on the Wind River Indian Reservation and detained in Lander before be extradited to Billings.

Several relatives of Harris broke into sobs as Wadda entered the courtroom flanked by U.S. marshals.

"I just hate him, knowing that he's guilty," Theda Foote, the victim's grandmother, said outside court. "It isn't closure yet, but at least we're one step closer to closure."

Few details

Authorities have been tight-lipped about the circumstances surrounding the death of Harris, and an indictment filed in the case offered few details.

The charge of aggravated sexual abuse indicates that authorities believe Wadda forced the victim to engage in a sexual act.

Co-defendant Eugenia Ann Rowland was arrested and detained last week in South Dakota. She faces a count of second-degree murder. Both defendants face potential life sentences if convicted.

Family members of Harris said Wadda and Rowland were the last two people seen with her before she disappeared. The suspects were seen packing a pickup truck with their belongings and leaving town while the search for the Harris was underway, said Kateri Foote, an aunt of Harris.

It was unclear how Harris came into contact with the suspects. Theda Foote and other family members said they did not know each other.

Public defender

At the hearing, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby appointed public defender Steve Babcock to represent Wadda.

About a month after Harris' body was found, frustration with the pace of the investigation prompted a rally and march in Lame Deer attended by about 200 people.

The victim's mother, Melinda Harris Limberhand, demanded justice for victims of unsolved murders on reservations across the U.S.

Even in the wake of last week's arrests, relatives of Harris expressed lingering disappointment with how the case was handled.

"For this it took months," said Merlin Sioux, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council and a distant uncle of the victim.

An initial court appearance for Rowland has not been set. She has not entered a plea.

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