PHOENIX (AP) — The mother of an Arizona girl missing for nearly a year was re-arrested in the case Thursday on suspicion of first-degree murder and 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.
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.”
“We now have the opportunity to seek justice for Jhessye and uncover the truth behind her disappearance,” Montgomery added.
Investigators believe Shockley’s body was disposed of days before Hunter reported her missing Oct. 11 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 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. 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.
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.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.