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KNOX, Ind. — A Starke County judge sentenced a man to 65 years in prison in the death of 11-month-old Mercedes Lain.

The little girl was found dead in August 2021. Her disappearance was the subject of a statewide Silver Alert.

Justin Miller, who was babysitting the girl, pleaded guilty to murder in connection with her death. He learned his sentence this week after a judge accepted his plea deal.

Justin Miller

The girl had been placed in Miller’s care on Aug. 12 in Mishawaka. Two days later, Miller got into an argument with his girlfriend; he said he’d been using synthetic marijuana and was intoxicated.

During a December hearing, Miller said Mercedes got upset after the argument. He backhanded her, slamming her head against a wall. He gave her a bottle to settle her down.

Another argument between Miller and his girlfriend ensued; Miller said he struck Mercedes again.

Miller went to sleep; when he woke up, he realized the little girl had died. Frantic, he put her in his car, borrowed gas money from a neighbor and drove to Starke County. He then wrapped her in a blanket and buried her in the woods.

He later led police to the location.

Mercedes died from blunt force injuries to the head, according to Marshall County Prosecutor Nelson Chipman.

Miller was described as a relative of Mercedes’ parents, who had placed Mercedes in Miller’s care in order to have a “few days break” from their child. When Miller didn’t bring Mercedes back as originally scheduled, the girl was reported missing.

Neglect cases against the girl’s parents are pending, according to court records.