SALEM, Mass. (AP) — A retired corrections officer charged in the decades-old killing of a New Hampshire girl in Massachusetts pleaded not guilty Thursday.

Marvin C. McClendon Jr. was also ordered to remain in custody. He’s due back in Essex County Superior Court in Salem, Massachusetts, late next month.

The 75-year-old Alabama resident has been charged with fatally stabbing Melissa Ann Tremblay on Sept. 12, 1988.

The 11-year-old from Salem, New Hampshire, had been playing outside in Lawrence, Massachusetts, while her mother was inside a local social club. Tremblay’s body was found in a nearby railway yard the following day.

McClendon’s lawyer, C. Henry Fasoldt, said after Thursday’s arraignment that his client “looks forward to holding the government to its very high burden of proof.”

Tremblay’s cousin, Daneille Root, said the family never gave up hope the young child’s killer would eventually be found and face judgment.

“Over the years, some people have said that we didn’t care about her, but that is not true,” she said in a statement provided by the Essex District Attorney’s Office. “She has always been in our thoughts.”

“Many people have blamed my aunt for Missy’s death,” Root added. “While I don’t believe she made the right decision that night, that is between her and God. Ultimately the only person responsible for Missy’s death is the man we saw in court today.”

McClendon has been held without bail since May, when he was extradited from Alabama, where he lives.

Prosecutors have said the state crime lab generated a DNA profile from Tremblay’s body, leading them to McClendon. They also said the former corrections officer, who retired in 2002, had worked and attended church in Lawrence at the time of the killing.