SAN LEANDRO, Calif. -- A 13-year-old girl was charged with murdering a suspected 'snitch' in a junior high school drug ring and ordered to spend the holidays at a juvenile home while investigators unravel her confusing confession.
Trina Bence, of nearby Fremont, wore a light blue sweatshirt, jeans and bobby sox during her court appearance Wednesday. She answered 'Yeah' and 'Yes' when Juvenile Referee J.W. Moroney asked if she understood she was charged with the death of Kellie Jean Poppleton, 14.
Moroney ordered the youth to spend the holidays at the juvenile hall until theinvestigation is completed. Court-appointed attorney, Robert S. Shuken agreed Miss Bence should be held until Jan. 3, saying he was concerned for her safety on the outside.
Authorities said they lacked evidence corroborating Miss Bence's story and dropped homicide charges against another 13-year-old girl, a 17-year-old male, and Julian G. Ramirez, 27, all of Fremont. Ramirez remains in custody for an unrelated parole violation.
Police said Ramirez still was a suspect in the killing.
Miss Bence told police the Dec. 2 murder stemmed from the belief that Miss Poppleton had 'snitched' on a drug ring operating in junior high schools on the southeast side of San Francisco Bay.
But officials said they knew of no such report from Miss Poppleton.
The story given by Miss Bence was that she and the others had taken Miss Poppleton on a fatal ride 12 days ago, beating her severely and strangling her on a remote road in Niles Canyon, near Fremont. The victim also had been sexually molested, authorities said.
The body was found by a passing motorist Dec. 3 on a remote road near Sunol, Calif.
The story linking Miss Poppleton's death to drug traffic became suspicious when her parents, teachers and friends told investigators she was a good student and not considered likely to be involved with heavy drugs.
School authorities denied the existence of a drug ring.
'I kept reading 'drug ring,' 'drug ring,'' (in the newspapers),' said Jim Butler, principal of Centerville Junior High, where Miss Bence was a student.
'No such 'drug ring' exists on this campus. If there's a problem - I call it a problem if just one kid is using drugs -- it certainly isn't of that magnitude.'
Investigators said Miss Bence's story was shaken by evidence that the other 13-year-old girl allegedly involved was elsewhere on Dec. 2 when the death ride allegedly began in Fremont.
Wednesday's hearing was a civil action aimed at determining custody of Miss Bence. Her parents, Tony and Pam Hansen, were in the courtroom but did not testify. The district attorney asked the referee to make Miss Bence a ward of the court until she can be tried for the slaying.
Deputy Alameda County District Attorney John Burke said he still believes Miss Bence herself was involved in the killing.
'In terms of her being present at the crime and assisting in the killing. I sure do,' he said, adding, 'It's obvious a 13-year-old girl didn't do this by herself.'