April 18, 2011

Erin Runnion joins dead teen's family in protest

Friends, relatives and supporters of an Orange County woman who disappeared in 2007 protested Friday in front of the Los Angeles courthouse where they say the man responsible received a "slap on the wrist."

John Steven Burgess told investigators that 19-year-old Donna Jou attended a party at his Los Angeles home in June 2007, and that he gave her cocaine, heroin and alcohol. After agreeing to plead guilty, he admitted in court that he found her lifeless body in a chair the following day, panicked, and dumped her body in the Pacific Ocean.

Burgess, a convicted sex offender who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in 2009 in connection with Jou's death, was expected to be released from state prison on Friday, according to officials at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He was expected to be transferred into the custody of Los Angeles County jail, where he is to complete a year-long sentence for concealing a body, according to officials.

About 25 people participated in the demonstration, including Erin Runnion, whose daughter was kidnapped and killed in 2002, capturing national headlines. Since then, Runnion has spoken out about crimes against children and has been an advocate for victim's rights.

"Hopefully (Los Angeles District Attorney Steve) Cooley will re-open the case," Runnion said.

Donna Jou's mother, Nili Jou, said family members and friends decided to protest in front of the Los Angeles criminal courthouse where Burgess was convicted because it is where he received what they believe was a light sentence. Supporters carried signs that read "Steven Burgess got only a slap on his wrist for murder" and "No justice for victims, sex offender freed early."

"We didn't get any justice for Donna," Nili Jou said in a phone interview Friday morning. "It's going to happen to another family, and it terrifies me."

A straight-A student at San Diego State with dreams of going into medicine, Donna Jou met Burgess through an ad she placed on Craigslist offering math tutoring. On June 23, 2007, her mother saw her climb onto the back of a motorcycle.

She never saw her again.

When Burgess was named a person of interest in her disappearance, authorities said, he painted his truck, tried to get rid of the plates from his motorcycle and headed to Florida.

He was extradited to Los Angeles after being arrested, and was charged with failing to register as a sex offender. But for months he refused to speak to investigators about Donna Jou's disappearance, frustrating family members.
Family members protested during those months in front of Burgess' Los Angeles home and the Los Angeles court, urging him to reveal what happened to Jou.

It was after a grand jury indictment that Burgess told his version of what occurred.

But Nili Jou said she feels justice has not been done, and that prosecutors relied on Burgess' word.

"According to (detectives) the case is closed," she said in a previous interview. "They searched the ocean, they found nothing, and they believe a criminal."

Published: April 15, 2011 - Updated: 2:59 p.m.



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