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Contributed Photo/Hamilton County Sheriff's Office / Rhonda Lorna Essenpreis

Rhonda Lorna Essenpreis, 64, pleaded not guilty Friday to first-degree murder in connection with the stabbing death of a man in her Signal Mountain home on Dec. 29.

Defense Attorney Mike Little entered the not-guilty plea on behalf of his client before Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don W. Poole as Essenpreis attended the hearing via livestream from Silverdale Detention Center.

Essenpreis is accused of killing Randal Paull Otto, 69, by stabbing him multiple times.

Little also represented Essenpreis during her preliminary hearing on Jan. 11, when she appeared before General Sessions Court Judge Christine M. Sell for a hearing to establish probable cause in the killing of Otto and to establish Essenpreis' clarity of mind. Little will continue to represent Essenpreis.

During Friday's hearing, Essenpreis appeared to look healthier and more aware of her surroundings than she did at the January hearing.

Essenpreis was indicted by the grand jury on Mar. 30 and charged with first-degree premeditated murder.

During the January hearing, Hamilton County Sheriff's Office Detective Jason Maucere told the court Essenpreis "did appear to be under the influence" on the evening of Otto's killing.

Maucere also said that despite Essenpreis' condition, she was able to identify Otto. He also testified to seeing Trazodone pills, which are used to treat depression, on the kitchen counter, "some of which had blood stains on them," he said. He added that he found empty pill bottles on the kitchen counter and throughout the residence.

Should Essenpries be found guilty by a jury, she faces life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving 51 years.

Contact La Shawn Pagán at lpagan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter @LaShawnPagan.

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