Jerice Hunter smiles in court before pleading not guilty of killing 5-year-old daughter, Jhessye

PHOENIX - The mother of a 5-year-old girl who went missing nearly a year ago pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and child abuse in a Phoenix courtroom Monday.

Jerice Hunter smiled when she walked into the courtroom.

Hunter was allowed to change out of her jail uniform before she faced the judge.

She entered the plea in Maricopa County Superior Court with her attorney, Scott Maasen by her side.

Hunter is accused of killing her daughter, Jhessye Shockley and then throwing her body in the trash.

Hunter reported  Jhessye missing on October 11, 2011 and a frantic search began for the little girl.

Police spent months searching a landfill south of the Valley, hoping to find clues to Jhessye's disappearance.

Hunter was arrested on September 6 and remains in jail on a $500,000 bond.

Bishop Jeff Metcaff showed up to court to support Hunter.

Metcaff said he has talked with Hunter on several occasions since Jhessye disappeared and he believes Hunter is innocent.

"I've had many detailed conversations with her. I've been a mitigator, I've been involved with law also for many years. Her story is very consistent. Her heart seems very true and she's kind of caught between a rock and a hard place," said Metcaff.

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