Accused abductor calls Va girl a willing companion

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) - A man accused of abducting a 12-year-old Roanoke County girl after her mother was found dead says the child willingly accompanied him on a cross-country trip.

The Roanoke Times reports that Jeffrey Easley said in a letter from jail that "I did not kidnap her or take her against her will."

The letter doesn't mention the Dec. 6 slaying of 41-year-old Tina Smith, Brittany Smith's mother and Easley's girlfriend.

Easley claims in his letter to the newspaper, postmarked Thursday from the Western Virginia Regional Jail, that he'd promised to Smith that he'd protect her daughter.

His lawyer, Thomas Roe, declined to discuss the letter.

Police have charged Easley with abducting the girl, and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 8.

No one has yet been charged in Smith's slaying.

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