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ST. GEORGE'S, Grenada (AP) _ Dozens crowded the courthouse Thursday to catch a glimpse of a Baptist church leader, who is also a prominent member of Grenada's governing party, charged with killing a 15-year-old school girl.

As Archbishop Edmund Gilbert was led out, people surged toward him shouting ``Murderer! Murderer!'' His soldier escorts rushed him into a waiting car.

The victim's mother, Maureen Jeremiah, stepped into a shadowy archway and began to cry. ``She was brave and bright,'' Jeremiah said of Robbie-Ann Jeremiah. ``I miss her.''

Police discovered the teen-ager's body Feb. 1 near the airport. Officers said she had been strangled.

Gilbert, who is also a government tax collector, was arrested a week later after police traced a call _ telling them where to find the girl's body _ to his cell phone.

``The police know that Gilbert reported the phone as being stolen before that call was made,'' said defense attorney Anslem Clouden. ``I'm confident that we have a strong defense.''

Not since the mid-1980s when 17 men were tried for the assassination of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop has a trial generated so much publicity and divisiveness on this tiny Caribbean island.

``Everybody on the island is talking about it,'' said Yvonne Mercer, 67, who took two minibuses from her village an hour away to see Gilbert, 59, of the Spiritual Baptist Church.

The slain girl lived with her paternal grandmother, Anita Jack, who said they both had been attending Gilbert's church for years.

The girl's grandmother testified in the preliminary inquiry Thursday that Gilbert would visit the house often when Robbie-Ann was there.

The case has also caused a stir at the highest levels.

Prime Minister Keith Mitchell said that while Gilbert was a prominent supporter of him and his party, the government would stand behind the verdict of the court.

Shortly after the archbishop's arrest, the weekly Grenadian Voice wrote a scathing editorial. ``While we confess to a certain ambivalence about the death penalty, we could cheerfully support ... hanging for this putrid prelate,'' it said.

Gilbert's next court appearance is scheduled March 13 to decide whether there is enough evidence to bring him to trial. He has not entered a plea. If the case goes to trial and he is convicted, Gilbert could face death by hanging.