Man convicted for local woman's death released from prison

December 9, 2011 8:56:29 PM PST
Four years ago, Donna Jou was a student with a promising future when she disappeared. Now, the man who says he dumped her body in the ocean is out of prison after serving little more than two years.

While the prison sentence is over for the man convicted in Jou's death, her family's pain continues.

Donna Jou graduated from Clear Lake High School, interned at NASA and volunteered at a battered women's shelter in the area before heading off to college in California. The honors student dreamed of becoming a neurosurgeon. Now her family is only left with memories and the fear the man they believe killed her will strike again.

After serving just half of a 5-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter, convicted sex offender John Burgess walked away from jail a free man as his victim's family stood outside the criminal justice building in Los Angeles in protest.

"This criminal mastermind conned the system of justice and got away with murder," said her father, Raza Jou.

He has spent much of the last four years in California, first searching for his daughter Donna after she went missing, then following Burgess' journey through the justice system.

"The way the case played out was remarkably bizarre," Raza Jou said.

Jou, a 19-year-old pre-med student at San Diego State University, was last seen on the back of Burgess' motorcycle. She met him after he answered her online math tutoring post. When she disappeared, he fled to Florida, but police caught up with him.

During his trial, when prosecutors asked if he put her body in the ocean, Burgess replied, "Yes."

In 2009, Burgess pleaded guilty to causing her death. He said Jou overdosed after he gave her drugs and alcohol at a party at his house and then dumped her body in a bay.

But Jou's family believes Burgess lied to avoid a harsher sentence.

"We're giving them an incentive to put everyone through this kind of torture by telling them if by chance, you can get away with it, you're almost scot free," said her sister, Lisa Jou.

Burgess is now free. Jou's body has never been found. Her family remains tormented and even wonders if she's still alive while they say there are no questions about the system's shortcomings.

"There were no judicial safeguards for her," said Raza Jou.

Burgess was released due to overcrowding. Jou's father is still in California. He wants the case re-opened, but the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office says the case is closed.

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