Sex Offender Charged in Donna Jou's Disappearance

A convicted sex offender was charged Tuesday with involuntary manslaughter in the June 2007 disappearance and death of a 19-year-old Orange County woman who was an honors student at San Diego State University.

John Steven Burgess, 36, also known by the nickname Sinjin, was charged with one felony count each of involuntary manslaughter and one misdemeanor count of concealment of an accidental death. Burgess also is charged with two drug-related counts -- one felony count each of sale, transportation or offer to sell heroin and sale, transportation or offer to sell cocaine.

At a news conference, Los Angeles police Deputy Chief Charlie Beck said he believed Jou probably died of a drug overdose, though her body has never been found.

Burgess pleaded not guilty to the charges in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom and was scheduled to return to court April 1, when a date will be set for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to require Burgess to stand trial.

The complaint alleges that the crimes occurred on June 23, 2007 -- the date that Donna Jou of Rancho Santa Margarita was last seen alive. Her body was never found.

Jou and Burgess apparently met on the Web site Craigslist in late May or early June of 2007 and began exchanging e-mails, her parents said. Eventually, they agreed to meet in person.

Jou was last seen by her family as she rode away on the back of Burgess' motorcycle. She was later seen at a party at his rented, Palms-area home, authorities have said.

"She was a very ambitious girl," said Donna Jou's father, Reza Jou, outside court. "We love and miss her so much."

Authorities have not detailed how and where they believe the young woman died, but the complaint suggests Burgess injected Jou with a mixture of heroin and cocaine known as a speedball, and the girl died of an accidental overdose. Burgess then hid the body.

Detectives have suggested Burgess is using the location of the body as a negotiating chip.

"I had a very difficult time facing that man," Reza Jou said as his wife, Nili, sobbed uncontrollably nearby. "There's some sense of relief that my daughter's fate will soon be known."

Burgess -- who was considered a suspect at the time in Jou's disappearance -- is serving a three-year sentence handed down in October 2007 after pleading no contest to failing to register as a sex offender.

Burgess had been set to be released from prison this weekend in connection with that case, according to attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Jou's family. He is now being held in lieu of $1 million bail for the latest charges.

Asked about the location of Jou's body, Allred said: "That's up to the D.A.," suggesting that negotiations with the suspect will have to take place.

Burgess was convicted of battery in 2002 and, the following year, convicted of committing a lewd act on a child. He was sentenced to 146 days in jail, placed on three years probation and required to register as a sex offender.

If convicted of all the current charges in the Jou case, he faces a maximum of seven to eight years in state prison, prosecutors said.

Jou's disappearance was investigated by detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department's Robbery-Homicide Division.

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