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CROWN POINT — The families of a woman police say was beaten to death and the man accused of killing her sat together Friday in a small viewing area at the Lake County Jail for the man's initial hearing.

James E. McGhee, 38, was charged Monday with murder in the death of 27-year-old Sidne-Nichole Buchanan after police found her body in a forest preserve off Ill. 394 in unincorporated Cook County. The case was unsealed after his arrest Wednesday night.

Lake Criminal Court Magistrate Natalie Bokota entered not guilty pleas on McGhee's behalf during his initial appearance in the jail.

Bokota granted defense attorney Jamise Perkins' request to give McGhee copies of the court records detailing the allegations against him, but cautioned him against allowing other inmates to read them. If other inmates were to learn the details, they could use the information to manipulate McGhee, Bokota said.

McGhee stood before the magistrate, separated from his and Buchanan's family members by a thick glass window, in a gray striped jail uniform and jail-issued orange flip-flops.

Bokota advised McGhee that in addition to the murder charge, the Lake County prosecutor's office has filed a petition to revoke his probation in a 2017 case. In that case, he pleaded guilty to felony intimidation in connection with an attack that allegedly caused a former girlfriend to lose three of the four fetuses she was carrying.

Prosecutors and Perkins said McGhee received only probation in that case because the victim gave conflicting accounts of the allegations and was unavailable for depositions. 

The petition to revoke McGhee's probation alleges he failed to complete a batterer's intervention program.

According to court records, McGhee admitted to a friend that he beat Buchanan to death after attending a a Wiz Khalifa concert July 27 in Tinley Park.

The friend, who was granted immunity from prosecution, told police he saw a body concealed in black plastic bags in a bedroom at McGhee's Gary apartment July 28 and watched as McGhee dragged a suitcase out of the apartment.

The man said McGhee drove to the Thornton-Lansing Road Nature Preserve in unincorporated Cook County, dragged the suitcase into the woods and returned to the car a short time later, court records allege.

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Buchanan's family left the initial appearance without speaking with media.

Her grandmother and mother previously have said she was a mother of two children who "cared deeply about her family and friends" and "was loved by many."

Cornelius Lewis, the father of a 23-year-old woman killed in 2016 by a boyfriend, attended the hearing to support Buchanan's family.

Lewis' daughter, Diamond Lewis, was strangled in April 2016 by her longtime on-again, off-again boyfriend Kareem J. Williams. Diamond Lewis' burned body was found eight days after she disappeared in an abandoned Gary home.

Williams was convicted after a trial in 2018 and sentenced to 72.5 years in prison.

McGhee is facing 45 to 65 years in prison on the murder charge, Bokota said.

His next court appearance is set for Oct. 10.

Check back at nwi.com for updates to this story.

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