ROCKINGHAM — Julius Juan Lilly will spend more than 20 years behind bars after taking a plea in the 2012 beating death of a 4-year-old girl.
Lilly, now 44, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder — with aggravating factors of the crime being heinous, atrocious or cruel and that the victim was very young — and felony child abuse in Richmond County Superior Court late Thursday morning.
The only witness to take the stand was Capt. Jay Childers with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
Answering questions from Assistant District Attorney Dawn Layton, Childers said the sheriff’s office received a call the morning of Sept. 28, 2012 regarding a child on Green Lake Road/Ledbetter Street in Ellerbe.
When he arrived on scene, Childers said he saw grieving people in the yard before going to the FirstHealth ambulance, where he saw the body of the victim, 4-year-old Reba Ryan, with heavy bruising on the face, stomach and side.
Lilly had been in a relationship with Monica Ryan, the child’s mother, for more than a year — and the couple had a child together — but they had been having issues, Childers said.
The mother told investigators that Reba had been wearing a grey T-shirt and pink pajama pants when she went to bed the night before, according to Childers. However, when investigators arrived, she was wearing denim shorts and a white shirt.
Jessica Adams, a friend of the mother, told investigators that she and her then-boyfriend went over to the house that morning after getting a call from Lilly, Childers said. Adams said Lilly had told her that he had whipped her, showing a tan belt, and may have done it too hard.
Childers said Lilly also told investigators when he was questioned that he had used a belt, hitting her six or seven times, after he awoke to find her outside after the mother had gone to work.
Layton said the child’s autopsy revealed she had died from blunt-force trauma to the head and abdomen due to beating, and that she had a lacerated liver.
She also said the autopsy suggested the scene had been cleaned, which led investigators to obtain and serve a third search warrant, where they found the clothes she had been said to have been wearing the night before, which tested positive for the presumptive presence of blood.
Prosecutors believe Lilly used a belt — although not the one he had shown Adams, nor the one he was wearing when arrested — and possibly his hands and feet, Layton said.
Prior to sentencing, Layton told Superior Court Judge Richard Brown that the family members in the courtroom were too “devastated” to speak on the matter.
Charlotte-based defense attorney Norman Butler said he client grew up in poverty and only completed the 10th grade at West Montgomery High School. He added that Lilly accepts the responsibility for his actions, is “very remorseful,” and regrets what happened that morning.
Per the plea agreement, Brown sentenced Lilly to a minimum of 21 years and six months and a maximum of 26 years and 10 months on the murder charge, and a range of three years and five months to five years and two months on the abuse charge, with credit for time served. He also ordered that Lilly undergo a mental evaluation.
Lilly’s record with the N.C. Department of Public Safety Division of Adult Correction show he served four months for a 2001 conviction of assault on a female in Montgomery County, and probation for a similar charge in Randolph County in 1996.
He also has convictions for breaking into vehicles, larceny, injury to property, communicating threats and several traffic violations.
This was the third plea deal on a murder case in the past two weeks.
Robert David Erby pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 2014 Cordova shooting death of Michael Gene Cain and was sentenced to 12 to 15 years.
A few days before, Jerry Dean Guinn pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 2007 shooting death of his wife, Angela Jacobs Guinn.
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_toler.
Julius Juan Lilly, 44, pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal Thursday in the 2012 beating death of 4-year-old Reba Ryan in Ellerbe.