The suspected killer of 11-year-old Melissa Ann Tremblay in Massachusetts over three decades ago pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in Salem Superior Court Thursday.
Marvin "Skip" McClendon Jr., a 75-year-old ex-corrections officer, was ordered held without bail in May in the deadly 1988 stabbing after being arrested in Alabama in April.
Tremblay's family released a statement shortly after he faced a murder charge for the first time in May, expressing their relief that there was an update in the case, and frustration that some of the family are no longer alive to see justice served. On Thursday, her cousin Daneille Root offered new comments.
"We are about 2 months shy of 34 years since we lost Missy and we have never given up hope that her killer would be found. Over the years, some people have said that we didn’t care about her, but that is not true. She has always been in our thoughts. We chose to put our faith in God, the Lawrence Police Department, the Massachusetts State Police and the Essex District Attorney’s Office. Clearly that was the right choice," she wrote.
Get Boston local news, weather forecasts, lifestyle and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Boston’s newsletters.
Melissa Ann, from Salem, New Hampshire, was found dead in a Lawrence train yard on Sept. 12, 1988, a day after she was reported missing.
Melissa had accompanied her mother and her mother’s boyfriend to the LaSalle Social Club in Lawrence, not far from the railyard, and went outside to play while the adults stayed inside, authorities have said. She was last seen by a railroad employee and a pizza delivery driver during the late afternoon hours.
McClendon was arrested last month at his home in Bremen, Alabama, and was being returned to Massachusetts to face the murder charge after waiving his right to a local court appearance.
McClendon is a retired Massachusetts Department of Corrections employee, but Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett has said he isn't sure if he was working for the state in 1988. He worked for the department on three separate occasions from 1970 to 2002.
He lived in Chelmsford and was doing carpentry work at the time of the killing. He had multiple ties to Lawrence, which is close to Salem, New Hampshire. He worked in the city and frequented numerous establishments there, including the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Salem Street.
McClendon was married twice - once in Hillsborough County, New York in 1985 and again in Cullman, Alabama in 2005, according to public records. Both marriages ended in divorce, court records show.
Get updates on what's happening in Massachusetts to your inbox. Sign up for our News Headlines newsletter.
Prosecutors said in May that DNA evidence found in 2014 on Melissa Ann led investigators to McClendon's family, and they obtained DNA samples from some, including Marvin. He was the only left-handed family member, and the wound that killed the girl was found to have been delivered by a left-handed person.
He also had ties to Lawrence and a van that looked like one that witnesses saw Melissa Ann near on the day she disappeared, according to prosecutors.
A list of evidence submitted in discovery included DNA analysis reports, crime scene photos and reports, interviews and more.
It is unclear whether the suspect and victim knew each other, Blodgett has said. He said there is no information leading investigators to believe the suspect was involved in any other crimes.