A 21-year-old Walker man who confessed to authorities that he stabbed and strangled his girlfriend’s abuser pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a second-degree murder charge in the July slaying.

Jace Crehan faces an automatic sentence of life in prison if convicted as charged in the killing of Robert Noce Jr., 47, of Zachary.

Noce’s body was discovered July 4 stuffed inside a 55-gallon plastic drum in the kitchen of his trailer on South Vernon Road.

Twelve days earlier, Noce was put on probation for sexually abusing Crehan’s girlfriend, Brittany Monk, when she was a child. Noce was a former boyfriend of Monk’s mother.

Monk, 18, of Walker, also appeared Wednesday before state District Judge Tony Marabella, who scheduled a Nov. 13 hearing on her request for a reduction of her $400,000 bail. East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors are opposing that request. Monk also is charged with second-degree murder. She pleaded not guilty last month.

Crehan’s attorney, Carson Marcantel, told Marabella he does not anticipate filing a motion seeking to have Crehan’s $400,000 bail lowered.

Marcantel declined comment after the proceeding. Crehan’s next court appearance is Jan. 28.

Monk was pregnant with Crehan’s child at the time of Noce’s killing. She delivered a baby boy Sept. 8, six days after she and Crehan were indicted. Crehan’s father and his wife are acting as the child’s legal guardians.

In a Sept. 23 court filing opposing Monk’s bail reduction request, prosecutor Darwin Miller argues the seriousness of the crime and strength of the evidence dictate that her bail not be lowered. Miller also claims Monk has shown in jailhouse letters written to Crehan that she is a danger to others and a flight risk.

The prosecutor filed a supplemental opposition Tuesday, including excerpts from additional letters that Monk wrote to Crehan from jail.

In one such letter dated Sept. 26, Monk says to Crehan, “It’s not your fault I’m here and I still love you. I don’t know if you know this but my charge is principal to 2nd Degree Murder and that still carries life, so if this goes to trial, I think I can be convicted. But I’m not sure how it all works.”

“I know we need to stay positive,” she continues, “but we also need to remember the severity of the situation and what we’re up against.”

Authorities have said Monk’s DNA was found on the plastic drum containing Noce’s body.

In letters to The Advocate, Crehan called himself Monk’s guardian and protector. In his communications with the newspaper, Crehan also compared his actions to those of Gary Plauche, who pleaded no contest to manslaughter and served no prison time after shooting to death his son’s accused molester, Jeff Doucet, at the Baton Rouge airport in 1984.