The man charged with killing 5-year-old Alayna Ertl is now facing a life sentence

The 5-year-old's disappearance in August led to an Amber Alert and hourslong search.
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The 25-year-old accused of kidnapping and killing Alayna Ertl is now facing life in prison if he's found guilty.

Zachary Todd Anderson was originally charged with second-degree murder after the 5-year-old Ertl's body was found in a "swampy wooded area" hours after authorities issued an Amber Alert, prompting a large search for the girl.

Those charges have now been upped to include first-degree murder – a decision that under Minnesota law can only be made by a grand jury, which the Cass County Attorney's Office said happened Friday. A first-degree murder conviction means a mandatory life sentence. Second-degree murder is up to 40 years in prison.

The indictment is 19 total counts, including:

  • 8 counts of first-degree murder
  • 1 count of second-degree unintentional murder
  • 4 counts of kidnapping
  • 2 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct
  • 1 count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct
  • 1 count of motor vehicle theft
  • 2 counts of interference with a dead body

The original charges against Anderson accused him of taking the girl from her parents' Watkins home overnight on Saturday, Aug. 20 – Anderson was a friend of the family. Ertl's mother found she was missing in the morning, and an Amber Alert was issued early that afternoon.

The charges say they found Anderson knee-deep in swampy water, at his father's cabin. He was arrested, and pointed investigators to Ertl's body – found naked in the swamp under some debris, the criminal complaint says.

The medical examiner said she was strangled and beaten, and there were signs of sexual assault.

Anderson's bail was set at $3 million for unconditional release at a court appearance Friday. He'll be in court again on Dec. 12, at 1:30 p.m.

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