Family members and friends on both sides filled a Menifee County courtroom Tuesday as a husband accused of murdering his wife made his first appearance.
Austin Prater entered a not guilty plea on charges of murder, violating an emergency protective order, leaving the scene of an accident, and tampering with physical evidence.
The 20-year-old was arrested last Wednesday when the body of his wife, 18-year-old Mariah Prater, was found in a ditch on the side of the road.
Prater’s uncle, John Self, told LEX 18 that it was heart-breaking to see Austin in custody.
“It was hard. Austin is my nephew and I love him.,” Self said. “And I love Mariah too. She was my niece by marriage.”
State Police say that Prater told them his wife fell out of the truck as they were driving down the road. Police say they believe he ran Mariah over, then got out of the truck, called 911, and threw his phone in the grass before driving away.
“I don’t wish anything horrible on anybody, and I am a forgiving Christian, but even God says there’s a judgment day, and sometimes it’s on earth,” said Mariah’s grandmother, Teresa Little.
Prater will be back in court next week for a preliminary hearing.