Parents meet with man who dumped daughter’s body in sea
“The 19-year-old from Rancho Santa Margarita was last seen in June 2007.”
LOS ANGELES The parents of Donna Jou, a 19-year-old Rancho Santa Margarita woman who disappeared nearly two years ago, finally got a chance Thursday to talk to the man who says he dumped her body at sea after she took drugs and died at his house. John Steven Burgess, 36, pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of involuntary manslaughter and concealing the body of Jou, a student he met through a Craigslist ad on the Internet. Burgess, a convicted sex offender, said in court Wednesday that he gave Jou cocaine, heroin and alcohol during a party at his home on June 23, 2007, then dumped her body in the ocean when he found her dead the next day. Jou’s parents, Reza and Nili Jou, met with Burgess on Thursday in an attempt to get some of their questions answered. The meeting took place at Parker Center, the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters. The Jous’ attorney, Gloria Allred, and LAPD detectives were also in the room when the meeting took place, Allred said. After the meeting, the couple were visibly upset. They took a few minutes to compose themselves in the Parker Center lobby before emerging to speak to the news media. “Some of our question has been answered,” said Reza Jou. “But we must find my child. We are not going to give up until we find Donna.” “Why? Why? Why? When he knows that she’s only 19 years old,” said Nili Jou. “I have so many whys unanswered. All my whys, nobody can answer my whys. Why did this happen to my baby?” Nili Jou said that Burgess had apologized to them. “He knew what was the right thing to do when he found her, but chose not to do the right thing. He said that he’s sorry. How sincere, I don’t know.” The couple showed Burgess photos of their daughter from a red album. “We wanted him to see that this was a human being who is part of a family,” Allred said. “This was a human being, not a piece of garbage that you throw in the ocean.” According to Allred, Burgess gave the couple the following account: He liked to have parties at his house and somebody told him it would be good if he got more girls to come. He saw Jou’s ad and invited her to a party, and she said she’d be interested. He picked her up on his motorcycle and drove her to his house, which was two hours away in Los Angeles. They were listening to music. More people arrived. There were some drugs at the party that Jou apparently used, Allred said, citing Burgess. He said he did not force her to take drugs. It was a long way back to Orange County, so she decided to spend the night and she went to sleep, Allred continued, citing Burgess’s account. He said Jou went to sleep in a chair. About 6:30 or 7 a.m., he woke up and felt for her pulse, according to Allred. “She was, in his words, gone,” Allred said. He did not attempt CPR. He thought about what to do. At one point, he put the body in the bed of his truck, drove to Jou’s family’s house and was going to give her body back to her mother, Allred said. But he had second thoughts and ultimately put a sheet over her, put her in a duffel bag, put her in his sailboat, sailed out and put her in the ocean, he told the couple, according to Allred. Burgess said he’d been wanting to tell the truth for a long time, but his lawyer had told him not to talk, Allred said. He said when he put Jou’s body into ocean, he was crying and very emotional. He jumped into the water thinking he would kill himself but got back into boat and went to shore, Allred said. He said he was like a zombie for days afterward, but he was afraid that people would say that he killed her, so he painted his car black and went home to Florida, Allred said. He told his mother some of what had happened but not everything, and she told him to get a lawyer, according to Allred. “I cannot tell you if I believed him word for word,” said Nili Jou. “This man is a con artist. He’s a con man. He’ll do anything to get himself off easy,” said Reza Jou. Reza Jou said the couple cannot have closure until his daughter’s body is found. Jou was last seen by family members riding in the back of a motorcycle with Burgess. After she disappeared, law enforcement from Orange and Los Angeles counties began investigating her disappearance. He was picked up in Florida weeks later and extradited to Los Angeles, but authorities said he refused to speak to investigators about Jou. Friends and Jou family members attended Burgess’ court appearances, holding signs outside the courthouse that read, “Ask Burgess where Donna is.” Family members launched a Web site seeking tips from the public to find the 19-year-old student and offered a $15,000 reward for information leading to her location. But though authorities have conducted several searches, Jou’s body has not been found. Investigators with the Los Angeles Police Department said Jou and Burgess exchanged several e-mails since May 2007 regarding drugs and other topics. Prosecutors said that in exchange for his plea, drug-related charges against Burgess will be dismissed. Burgess is expected to be sentenced May 18 to five years in state prison. “Unfortunately, the law that we have is not sufficient to give him the penalty that he deserves,” said Reza Jou, who added he believes Burgess should spend the rest of his life in prison.
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