RISING SUN, Ind. – The built-in contradiction and sadness surrounding the death of 10-year-old Conner Conley unfolded again Friday afternoon.
• Photos: A brother's killing in a small town
At the same time mourners filed into the Markland Funeral Home for Conner’s visitation, his brother, Andrew Conley, appeared at a hearing a few blocks away at the Ohio County Courthouse.
Andrew Conley, 17, accused of strangling his brother to death Saturday night and dumping the body near a park, pleaded not guilty.
Andrew Conley is being tried as an adult but is not eligible for the death penalty. He showed no emotion during his appearance in Ohio Circuit Court, where his attorney, Gary Sorge, entered the plea. The hearing was at 3:30 p.m.
Andrew, transferred Thursday night to the Switzerland County Jail in Vevay, wore an orange jumpsuit and had his wrists cuffed in front of his body.
The murder conviction would carry a sentence ranging from 45 to 65 years in prison.
However, Aaron Negangard, prosecutor for Ohio and Dearborn counties, said he may pursue a sentence of life in prison for Conley.
Though his parents withdrew him from Rising Sun High School Nov. 16, some of Andrew’s classmates attended the hearing.
Visitation started at 2 p.m. for Conner. Several of his classmates, accompanied by parents, walked into the funeral shortly after classes ended for the day.
The wake was closed to media. A funeral home spokeswoman said information about additional services would not be made public and was for family only.
Traffic flow into the funeral home parking lot was steady until 6 p.m. Besides young students, several co-workers of Conner’s parents, Shawn and Bridget Conley, both employed in food and beverage services at Grand Victoria Casino also attended. The casino is across the street from the funeral home.
The death of a 10-year-old boy allegedly at the hands of his brother has shaken the town of 2,500, about 40 miles southwest of Cincinnati. The aftershocks have spread throughout all of southeast Indiana, said one mourner.
“Things like this don’t happen around here,” said Malcolm Markland of Vevay, a co-worker of Shawn Conley.
Markland left the funeral home about 3:20 p.m. He said Conner’s casket was open, surrounded by a dozen flower arrangements. The child was dressed in a dark suit and tie.
“He looked at peace,” Markland said.
Conner was wearing camouflaged pants and a T-shirt when police found his body Sunday night in a wooded area adjacent to Rising Sun City Park, a few hundred yards behind his school. His head had been tied in a plastic bag with black electrical tape.
Andrew Conley turned himself into police that night and said he had killed his brother.
A white cross stood Friday in the park near where the body was found. It read, “In loving memory of” and “classmates of Conner 2009."
Ministers assisting school counselors said students were “greatly affected” by Conner’s death.
Back at the funeral home, mourners greeted the family.
“Daddy is hanging in there,” Markland said. “Mom is taking it tougher.”
According to court records, the parents were at work Saturday night. Andrew and Conner were at home alone. The brothers started wrestling.
Andrew, who later told police he had fantasized about killing someone with his bare hands since he was in eighth grade, placed his brother in a headlock. Conner lost consciousness and labored to breath. Andrew, who said he related to the serial killer on the Showtime series “Dexter,” also told police he dragged his brother’s body onto the kitchen floor, put on a pair of gloves and choked him for 20 minutes to make sure he was dead.
On Sunday, when his parents returned to their rural Ohio County home from work, Andrew told them that Conner was at his grandmother’s in Rising Sun – a common child-care arrangement.
The official cause of death was manual strangulation.
Many people at Friday’s visitation declined to speak to reporters. Two relatives did.
Al Synder, 48, of Camden, N.Y., is Shawn Conley’s uncle. He described the 10-year-old as artistic, outgoing and articulate.
“He could carry on a conversation better than most adults I know,” said Snyder, who attended with his sister, Debbie Snyder of Westdale, N.Y.
He said the Conley family was “very structured. They did family things. They took vacations. They would come to New York to visit family. We went bowling, and Conner had a great time.”
Andrew and Conner are the only children in the family.
Most mourners walked out of the funeral home with a bi-fold program that featured a color school picture of a smiling, freckled Conner.
The Snyders described Conner as a boy who liked to hunt and fish. He liked to read and write and had recently started to draw comics in panels.
“He was very sensitive and caring,” Debbie Snyder said. “He would take his toys and give them to someone who didn’t have any. He did that once.”
Conner had won a contest by drawing a picture that promoted recycling.
Was there any sign that the brothers did not get along, any indication of Andrew’s dark fantasies, any tension?
“No, they liked each other,” Al Snyder said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.