Teen pleads innocent in killing

COUPEVILLE – James L. Sanders pleaded innocent Friday in Island County Superior Court to the murder of his 15-year-old girlfriend, Elaine Sepulveda.

Sanders, 18, was arraigned on a second-degree murder charge, and his trial was set for March 22, Island County prosecutor Greg Banks said.

Investigators suspect the Oak Harbor High School senior murdered Elaine Nov. 6 because he believed she was pregnant with his child.

Island County Coroner Robert Bishop hasn’t confirmed the pregnancy and is waiting on more tests to determine the exact cause of death, Banks said.

Sanders was arrested Jan. 14 shortly before the girl’s body was discovered in the back yard of his grandfather’s house.

Banks said earlier this month he will ask for extra prison time if Sanders is convicted because Sanders tried to conceal the crime by hiding Elaine’s body in a compost pile, and has “shown an egregious lack of remorse.”

The standard sentencing range is 10 to 18 years in prison. Sanders could face more time if a judge finds aggravating factors.

Police suspected Sanders early in the investigation after his mother reported finding a bag of Elaine’s clothes in his room Nov. 7, the day after the girl was reported missing. Tests revealed there was blood on Elaine’s sweat shirt.

Sanders told police he found the clothing in the middle of the road and denied knowing what had happened to her, according to court documents.

Elaine’s family and friends insisted she would not have run away and spent more than two months searching for her.

Sanders’ grandfather called police early Jan. 14 and told officers his grandson had admitted killing the girl accidentally and burying her, court documents say.

Sanders told his grandfather he was trying to prevent Elaine from killing herself when he accidentally knocked her to the ground, causing a head injury, court papers say.

Reporter Katherine Schiffner: 425-339-3436 or schiffner@heraldnet.com.

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