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Neighbor pleads innocent in Benoit slaying

KINGSTON, Mass. -- A church deacon charged with killing his young neighbor and burying her partially clad body in his basement was ordered Thursday to undergo psychiatric testing, while police prepared to excavate his yard and search for more bodies.

A crowd of as many as 300 jeering Kingston residents gathered outside the courthouse as Henry Meinholz, 52, was brought in for his arraignment. Some shouted, 'Hang him! Hang him!' as several police officers led the suspect inside, where he pleaded innocent.

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Meinholz, a bookkeeper for a lumber company, was arrested Wednesday after authorities investigating the disappearance of 13-year-old Melissa Benoit discovered a body in the cellar of his Main Street home.

The body, which had been wrapped in a plastic sheet, was exhumed after authorities obtained a court order. Investigators were awaiting the results of an autopsy Thursday to confirm their suspicions that it was Benoit's remains and to determine the cause of death.

Meanwhile, Kingston Police Chief Alan Ballinger said he had applied for a warrant to dig up part of Meinholz's yard in a search for more possible bodies.

'We're applying for a warant now to dig up some particular areas in their backyard,' he said. 'We want to be very careful and meticulous.'

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Benoit, a soft-spoken eighth-grader at the Sacred Heart School, vanished Sept. 15 after spending the afternoon watching television at another neighbor's house. She is believed to have left that house, located 50 feet from her own, to visit the grave of her father, who died one year ago last week.

Her disappearance sparked a massive search by several hundred volunteers and a nationally televised plea for her safe return by her mother, who appeared on the program, 'America's Most Wanted.'

Meinholz, a deacon at the First Baptist Church in Plymouth, and his wife were among the scores of neighbors and friends who combed the South Shore town of 4,300 residents, 25 miles southeast of Boston, looking for the missing girl.

Meinholz underwent a lengthy session with a court psychiatrist at the Kingston police station before he was brought to Plymouth District Court for arraignment, Plymouth County District Attorney William O'Malley said.

After pleading innocent, Judge Dennis Collari ordered him held without bail and sent him to Bridgewater State Hospital for a 20-day psychiatric evaluation. The case was continued to Oct. 16.

Meinholz's attorney, Jack Atwood, said his client was 'bewildered' by the entire chain of events and was unable to remember anything about the incident. He said the court psychiatrist had confirmed the memory loss was genuine.

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