Mom of Missing Arizona Girl Charged with Murder

Hemera/Thinkstock(GLENDALE, Ariz.) -- The mother of Jahessye Shockley, a 5-year-old Arizona girl who has been missing for nearly a year, was arrested and charged with felony child abuse and first-degree murder for her daughter's death.

"For the past 11 months, the men and women of the Glendale Police Department and our partners from local, state and federal law enforcement worked tirelessly to accomplish two goals: to find Jahessye and to hold the person responsible for her disappearance accountable," Glendale Chief of Police Debora Black said in a statement.

They have yet to find Jahessye, but Black said authorities were confident they would achieve their second goal with the arrest of Jerice Hunter on Thursday.

Shockley was first reported missing nearly a year ago on Oct. 11, 2011. After an initial investigation and an extensive search, Hunter was arrested on Nov. 21 on suspicion of child abuse. She was later released and no charges were filed.

Authorities are tight-lipped about what evidence led to this week's arrest and charges.

"[The] investigation has turned up information and evidence of varying kinds and when it was re-submitted to our office for review, we felt that there was enough evidence there to support the charges handed up in the indictment," Maricopa County Attorney spokesman Jerry Cobb told ABC News Friday.

"I can't get into any specifics about the nature or type of evidence," he said.

Hunter's attorney Scott Maasen takes issue with the lack of transparency in the alleged evidence against his client.

"They don't have a body. They haven't found Jahessye," he said. "When you have a case where it takes that much time, it really calls into question the believability, the reliability, of whatever type of evidence they have."

Maasen that he met with Hunter in jail and that she is "in good spirits, considering the circumstances."

"She has maintained her innocence from day one when she reported her missing almost a year ago," Maasen said. "In every conversation I've had with her, she's been steadfast in that."

He is "confident" that Hunter will be exonerated once he receives the evidence in the case.

Investigators did not find Shockleys' body after a four-month search of the Butterfield Station Landfill in Mobile, but maintain that her body is in a landfill.

Jahessye was last seen by her three older siblings at their apartment building while Hunter said she was out running an errand. She said she left her three older children doing chores in the backyard and locked Jahessye inside so she would be safe.

Hunter's four other children, ages 6, 9, 13 and an infant, are in state custody, according to authorities.

Hunter's criminal history of allegedly abusing her children drew public suspicion to what role, if any, she might have played in her daughter's disappearance.

Hunter was charged with child abuse in 2006. According to court documents, Hunter was "accused of torturing her 7-year-old daughter and of causing corporal injuries to three of her other children" in California. Her children told police that Hunter would punch them and whip them, sometimes using extension cords.

Maasen said that the children later changed their stories.

Police said Hunter's ex-husband George Shockley also participated in the alleged abuse. He is currently in prison following his conviction as a sex offender.

Convicted of four counts of child abuse in the 2006 case, Hunter was sentenced to eight years in a California prison and lost an appeal. Prosecutors dropped the torture charges in exchange for a plea of no contest, according to ABC's Phoenix affiliate KNXV-TV. However, it is unclear why Hunter was released early from prison.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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