PUBLISHED: 01:10 EST, 7 September 2012 | UPDATED: 01:11 EST, 7 September 2012
The mother of Jhessye Shcokley, the Arizona girl missing for nearly a year was re-arrested on Thursday on suspicion of the first-degree murder of her daughter and on charges of child abuse.
Police in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale announced at a news conference that Jerice Hunter was taken into custody without incident at her home in Mesa.
Hunter, 38, was indicted earlier in the day by a Maricopa County grand jury, even though the body of 5-year-old Jhessye Shockley hasn’t been found.
Jhessye Shockley (left) was five-years-old when she went missing in October 2011 and her body has never been found. Her mother Jerice Hunter (seen right in a November 2011 court appearance) was re-arrested today on suspicion of the first degree murder of her daughter
Hunter’s lawyer Scott Maasen said his client maintains her innocence.
‘The indictment is not evidence,’ Maasen said. ‘There is no body in this case. Cases without finding bodies are very difficult cases.’
County Attorney Bill Montgomery said his office ‘has successfully prosecuted cases in which the victim’s body was never found.’
‘My office has successfully prosecuted homicide cases over the last couple years where the body was never found,’ said Montgomery during the press conference,
‘And certainly in this particular instance with the totality of the evidence gathered over the course of the investigation and the quality of the evidence that was obtained not only securing an indictment, also led us to believe there was a reasonable likelihood of conviction at this point.’
‘We now have the opportunity to seek justice for Jhessye and uncover the truth behind her disappearance,’ Montgomery added.
Hunter was previously arrested in November on suspicion of child abuse but later released from jail with the charge dropped – as police feared a double jeopardy situation
280 officers sifted through more than 9,500 tons of trash from early February to late June at a Phoenix land-fill site
Investigators believe Shockley’s body was disposed of days before Hunter reported her missing on October 11th of last year and told police that she left Jhessye with the girl’s older siblings while she ran an errand and returned to find her gone.
A 96-day search at a Phoenix-area landfill ended in late June without finding the girl’s remains.
Glendale police, working with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement partners, moved forward with the case after a warrant was issued for the arrest of Hunter, based upon a Grand Jury Indictment handed down late Thursday morning.
Glendale Police Chief Debora Black said at a news conference that Shockley’s ‘final resting place’ likely is at the bottom of the Butterfield Landfill in Mobile, south of Phoenix, but no additional searches are scheduled.
She said 280 officers sifted through more than 9,500 tons of trash from early February to late June without success.
‘They worked tirelessly to accomplish two goals: to find Jhessye and to hold the person responsible for her disappearance accountable,’ Black added. ‘We are confident with the indictment and arrest, we will achieve our second goal of securing justice for Jhessye.’
Hunter was arrested in November on suspicion of child abuse but later released from jail with the charge dropped.
During the five month excavation of the Phoenix land-fill police said they knew the exact date the body was dumped and where and were hopeful they would be able to find the remains. They have to date not found Jhessye’s remains
Prosecutors said then that they wanted to continue investigating and were worried that Hunter would not be eligible for a potential murder charge if she was convicted of abusing Shockley, a situation known as double jeopardy.
At the news conference, authorities said Hunter was arrested based on the collection of evidence in the case since October.
Police records show Jhessye’s siblings told investigators in the days after her disappearance that Hunter allegedly abused her and kept the girl in a closet.
According to a court documents from November last year, Jhessye’s 13-year-old sister told police her mother kept the girl in a closet, and that Jhessye had black eyes, cuts and bruises before she was reported missing.
The teen recounted an incident just weeks earlier when Hunter returned home to find Jhessye wearing a long T-shirt while watching TV with a boy.
Parents: Mother Jerice Hunter (left) is has been re-arrested on suspicion of murdering her daughter Jhessye. She was arrested in October 2005 with then-husband, George Shockley, (right) for child abuse
She told the girl that she was a ‘ho’ before taking her into a bedroom, according to the document.
The teen said she could hear her sister screaming and crying in the room, the document said.
She also told police that Hunter kept Jhessye in a bedroom closet and deprived her of food and water, according to the document.
‘(She) reported that Jhessye’s hair had been pulled out and described Jhessye as not looking alive and that she looked like a zombie,’ it said.
‘(She) said that the closet where Jhessye had been looked like a grave and smelled like dead people.’
The teen said Hunter placed incense in a container to conceal the odor.
She also said that a few days before Jhessye disappeared, her mother spent the entire day cleaning the apartment and cleaning her shoes from the closet with soap and bleach.
Police said they found a receipt that showed Hunter bought food and a bottle of bleach two days before she reported her daughter missing.
In October 2005, Hunter was arrested with her then-husband on child abuse charges in California. Hunter pleaded no contest to corporal punishment and served about four years in prison before she was released on parole in May 2010.