CROWN POINT — A Gary teenager formally pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges he shot and killed a Merrillville teenager while attempting to rob the teen of an Xbox.
Garry L. Higgins, 17, appeared Thursday with several defense attorneys for a hearing before Lake Criminal Court Judge Clarence Murray.
Attorney Michael Woods will be Higgins' public defender in the murder case. Attorney Arlington Foley represents Higgins in a separate case in which Higgins is charged with felony carrying a handgun without a license.
Higgins was charged with murder earlier this month in the June 12 shooting death of 16-year-old Johnny Peluyera to the 5000 block of Maryland Street in Gary.
Peluyera's mother, Kelly Arroyo, said after the hearing that she felt anger when she saw Higgins in the courtroom.
The family continues to mourn her son, a Merrillville High School student who dreamed of one day becoming a video game programmer, building cars and enjoying life.
"I feel a lot of emptiness, which is never going to go away," Arroyo said.
According to court records, Higgins lured Peluyera to Gary under the pretense of wanting to purchase Peluyera's game system.
Higgins and his friend, Dezman C. Dukes, 18, of Merrillville, met Peluyera and Peluyera's father at the agreed location, and Higgins shot Johnny Peluyera as the boy attempted to run from him during the attempted robbery, court records state.
Higgins and Dukes were arrested July 3 in connection with the case, Lake County sheriff's police said. Higgins was charged July 5 as an adult.
Dukes, who told police he ran away as Higgins shot Peluyera, was released July 5 after a magistrate rejected a murder charge against him for lack of probable cause. Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez previously said police were still working to file charges against Dukes, but no new cases had been filed as of Thursday.
In the gun case, Higgins is accused of carrying a gun in a vehicle March 25 at Iddings Elementary School, 7249 Van Buren St. in Merrillville.
A police officer on patrol noticed a white Hyundai owned by Higgins' relative parked at the school about 2 a.m. and stopped to investigate, court records state.
Higgins, the driver, appeared "fidgety" as the officer approached and was unable to focus on the officer's questions, court records state. Higgins' passengers, a 24-year-old man and a teenager, told police they were there to pick up a girl.
Higgins gave officers permission to search the car, court records state.
Police found about 20 grams of Ecstasy in the rear passenger side of the car and a loaded AK-47-type rifle hidden in the engine compartment, under the hood, according to court records. The rifle's magazine contained seven bullets, but there was no bullet chambered.
Judge Murray set bond at $20,000 surety or $2,000 cash in the gun case. However, Higgins will remain in jail without bond in the murder case.
Higgins' next court date is set for Sept. 4.