PERRY -- As expected, a 17-year-old accused of shooting her sister to death before setting a fire inside the familys Kathleen home entered a plea of not guilty at her arraignment Wednesday.
Carmen Collins is charged with murder and arson in the July 3 slaying of 12-year-old India JaNai Collins, a seventh-grader at Mossy Creek Middle School.
The arraignment before Houston County Superior Court Judge Katherine K. Lumsden lasted only a few minutes. The girls parents, John and Angela Collins, and other family members were present in the courtroom.
Angela Collins whispered words of encouragement to her daughter as a sheriffs deputy brought her in and out of courtroom, calling her baby girl and saying, Itll be all right.
John Collins declined comment as the family left the courtroom.
Carmen Collins is accused of shooting her sister to death with their fathers .40-caliber handgun in the foyer-living room area of their home and fleeing to Columbus with the family dog.
It is unclear whether the fire inside the home was set before or after the sister was shot. The gasoline used to set the fire was stored in a shed where it was kept to power the lawn mower.
Houston County Public Defender Nick White, who is representing Collins, said after the hearing that the case is very emotional and difficult for the family.
He said the family has lost one child to death and another, at least temporarily, to jail.
White said during a September hearing in which bond was denied for Collins that she denies she killed her sister and said she did not leave willingly. He reiterated some of those comments Wednesday after the arraignment.
Its fair to say we think others are involved, and that will exonerate my client, White said. He declined to elaborate.
District Attorney George Hartwig declined to comment on the facts of the case. He said the prosecution is expected to be ready to try the case early next year. But White said he expects the case will not go to trial that soon.
At the September bond hearing, Prosecutor Daniel P. Bibler noted Collins had bonded out of jail Feb. 26 on a burglary charge. She also was subsequently indicted on a charge of theft by taking a motor vehicle. She pleaded not guilty to those charges as well Wednesday.
Also, the slaying of her sister was only a few days later after Collins posted bond, Bibler said. Collins has a history of curfew violations and running away from home, he said.
Collins is accused of selling the gun in Columbus where she was arrested July 5, Bibler said. The gun was recovered in a trash can outside a Columbus barbecue restaurant, a sheriffs investigator has said.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.