Nearly a decade after 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver's body was found in a suitcase on the side of a highway, a Massachusetts man pleaded not guilty to a murder charge on Thursday morning.
Alberto Sierra Jr., 32, the former boyfriend of Jeremiah's mother, Elsa Oliver, was arrested on a warrant Wednesday out of Worcester Superior Court on two charges -- murder and disinterring of a body, the Worcester District Attorney's Office said in a statement. A Worcester County grand jury handed up indictments for both charges earlier in the day.
Sierra pleaded not guilty to both charges during his appearance in Worcester Superior Court. He was ordered held without bail pending his next court hearing on May 25.
Prosecutors did not say what led to Sierra’s arrest. Messages seeking comment were left with his attorney.
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The case has weighed heavily on the mind of Fitchburg Police Chief Ernest Martineau, who was involved in the intitial investigation.
“This case rocked the conscience of the city of Fitchburg,” he said outside Worcester Superior Court. “At one point, we were Jeremiah’s family, 45,000 residents in the city, and we are here today, beginning the process of healing.”
Sierra had been sentenced to as many as seven years in prison back in 2017 after pleading guilty to abusing Jeremiah's siblings and mother. Elsa Oliver pleaded guilty to endangering the boy's siblings and abusing one of them and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.
Both were released in 2020, according to the Sentinel & Enterprise.
Sierra's brother, Christian Sierra, was also charged with lying to police about the investigation, along with two others.
Prosecutors had dropped charges of kidnapping and assault of Jeremiah against Sierra and Elsa Oliver at the time so double jeopardy did not apply as they continued to pursue homicide charges. It's unclear whether prosecutors also plan to indict Elsa Oliver.
Jeremiah Oliver, of Fitchburg, was last seen alive in September 2013, but wasn't reported missing until December of that year. His body was found off Interstate 190 in Sterling in April 2014. His death was not ruled a homicide until February of 2016 when an autopsy by the state medical examiner said that he died of "homicidal violence of undetermined" causes.
The boy’s death sparked a major review of the state’s Department of Children and Families, which eventually underwent an overhaul. Several of the DCF workers assigned to Oliver’s case were fired after it was revealed they had missed visits and appointments.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.