LACON — Accused murderer Gary C. Berchtold of rural Edelstein pleaded not guilty Monday to all the charges against him and was formally scheduled for trial on Nov. 18.
Berchtold, 39, was indicted by a Marshall County grand jury Friday on charges of first-degree murder, dismemberment of a human body, and concealment of a homicidal death. He allegedly shot the long-missing Tiffini Murphy to death on or about Aug. 31, 2018, burned her body, and then dumped the ashes in a remote spot in rural Peoria County near the Marshall County line.
Murphy, 38, was a Lacon native who had most recently been known to have lived in Peoria County, and was last reported seen by others in Berchtold’s company on about that Aug. 31 date. Berchtold initially told police he had dropped her off in Lacon early the next day, but confirmed last month that she had instead been shot to death and that he had burned her body and dumped the ashes, according to police testimony at an Aug. 24 bond hearing.
It would be unusual for a complex murder case to go to trial so soon, especially since Murphy’s identity has not yet been confirmed by DNA analysis. But Berchtold has not waived his right to a speedy trial within 120 days of his arrest, and the Nov. 18 starting date was available on the county’s court calendar, said public defender Patrick Murphy (who is not related to the victim).
Marshall, Putnam, and Stark counties have the same judge, who divides most weeks among the three counties, so scheduling a potentially lengthy trial can be complicated. Periods for jury trials are set at the beginning of each year, but Marshall County’s next dates in January would be after the 120-day deadline.
Circuit Judge James Mack set a scheduling conference for Oct. 2. An unrelated pending case alleging that Berchtold battered an ex-girlfriend in May was also set for review that day.
Berchtold remains in custody in lieu of $1 million bond, which would require posting $100,000 cash. He could face life in prison without parole if convicted of first-degree murder with a gun.