updated 4/29/2004 5:33:02 PM ET 2004-04-29T21:33:02

A 12-year-old boy accused of strangling an 8-year-old neighbor was interrogated for four hours without his parents or an attorney present before allegedly admitting his involvement, his lawyer said Thursday.

“My client steadfastly maintains his innocence in this case,” said attorney Gerald Word. “If there was an admission, it was not only under duress, it was flat wrong. I imagine I could have this 12-year-old admit to killing John Kennedy.”

“That’s not the case,” said sheriff’s Chief Deputy Brad Robinson. While the boy was questioned without his parents present, it was not for that long, he said.

Word said it was only after lengthy questioning Tuesday that the boy made a statement that led investigators to believe he killed Amy Yates. The boy, whose name is not being released by authorities, was then charged with murder.

The boy claims he was “repeatedly called a liar” during the interrogation, and was not read his rights before being questioned, Word said. He never admitted to harming the girl, he said.

District Attorney Pete Skandalakis dismissed Word’s claims. “Sometimes, what a defense attorney says is so doesn’t mean it is so,” he said. “I have the utmost confidence in the sheriff’s department.”

Yates disappeared Monday evening while riding her bike to a friend’s home in her trailer park, where the boy also lives. Her body was found hours later in a weeded gully.

Authorities have refused to comment on what led investigators to the boy or a possible motive.

Prosecutors say they have no choice but to try the boy as a juvenile because of his age. Under Georgia law, a defendant must be at least 13 to be tried as an adult. If convicted, the boy could only be sentenced to up to two years in prison.

Skandalakis said the Georgia Legislature should consider changing the law.

“If we need to change the law, we need to change the right of police to interrogate a 12-year-old without his parents present,” Word said. “That’s brutal.”

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