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Woman on Montana American Indian reservation pleads not guilty to toddler’s beating death

BILLINGS, Mont. — A woman on a Montana American Indian reservation pleaded not guilty to murder Tuesday in the alleged beating death of a 13-month-old relative who was under her care, court officials said.

Janelle Red Dog, 42, is accused of striking and killing Kenzley Olson, then putting her body in a trash dumpster before reporting the girl missing April 19.

Judge Marvin Youpee denied bond for Red Dog and ordered her back into custody pending a May hearing, according to the Fort Peck Tribal Court clerk’s office.

The defendant’s initial claim — that Kenzley disappeared from the house where Red Dog was caring for her — triggered an Amber Alert for an abducted girl that was broadcast in Montana and North Dakota. Authorities canceled the alert after Red Dog purportedly confessed a day later and drew a map that led them to the baby’s body.

Red Dog also faces a misdemeanor charge of hindering law enforcement for giving a false report to police.

The Fort Peck Reservation is about 20 miles from the U.S.-Canada border. Funeral services for Kenzley originally were scheduled for Sunday, but they were postponed until Wednesday. Her obituary described the girl’s “tiny fingers, baby soft skin and beautiful smile.”

Kenzley had been under Red Dog’s care for about two weeks, after her mother dropped her off and failed to return, Red Dog’s mother and her lawyer said. The tribal jail confirmed the mother was behind bars on unspecified charges when Kenzley died.

Defense attorney Mary Zemyan said told The AP that from the limited information authorities have shared with her, the cause of the baby’s death is unclear.

Additional charges could be filed in tribal court later, Fort Peck Tribes Chief Prosecutor Scott Seifert said. Tribal law allows for a maximum three-year prison sentence on any one charge, with a combined maximum of nine years in prison and a $5,000 fine per charge, he said.The severity of the crime and age of the victim merit the maximum punishment, Seifert wrote in a notice filed with the court.

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