“I Gave Her to the Sea”

A convicted sex offender pleaded guilty Wednesday to involuntary manslaughter and concealment of an accidental death in connection with the June 2007 disappearance of a 19-year-old Orange County woman.

John Steven Burgess -- who is scheduled to meet privately Thursday with the victim's family to discuss her death -- is due back in Los Angeles Superior Court on May 18 for sentencing. He is facing a five-year state prison term.

The plea was in connection with the disappearance of Donna Jou, who was an honors student at San Diego State University. Burgess was charged in March in the Jou case.

When asked by Deputy District Attorney David Walgren to describe the circumstances of Jou's death, the 36-year-old defendant said he answered an advertisement she placed on craigslist.com and brought her to his Palms area house, where there was alcohol and drugs, including marijuana, cocaine and heroin.

"I gave her some," Burgess said, as the victim's family sat two rows behind him in court.

Burgess said he awoke in the morning and "she was gone... she was dead."

"I just, I panicked and got scared and... I made a really bad decision. And I went down to my sailboat and I just, I gave her to the sea," he said.

"Did you put her body in the ocean?" the prosecutor asked.

"Yes, sir," Burgess responded.

The deputy district attorney noted that Burgess had gone with him and detectives to the marina to try to find the young woman's body.

When asked if he would meet privately with Jou's family to answer their questions, Burgess responded, "Absolutely."

Outside court, attorney Gloria Allred said the woman's parents, Reza and Nili, are "very relieved that Mr. Burgess has admitted his role in the death of their beloved daughter" and are going to have "an extraordinary opportunity to have a conversation with him to ask him any and all questions that they may have of him in reference to what happened and what his role was."


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Allred noted that the woman's parents are hopeful that her body -- which has not yet been found -- will be recovered some day so they can bury her remains.

"I miss her so much. I am very devastated. I love my daughter very much. The system is using a criminal's statement as a sole source of information," Jou's father, Reza, said outside court, as her mother wept.

Burgess was charged March 17 in connection with the Rancho Santa Margarita woman's death -- just days before he was to be released from prison for failing to register as a sex offender.

Two other charges filed against Burgess in March -- one felony count each of sale, transportation or offer to sell heroin and sale, transportation or offer to sell cocaine -- are expected to be dismissed when he is sentenced.

At a news conference hours after the charges were filed, Los Angeles police Deputy Chief Charlie Beck said he believed Donna Jou probably died of a drug overdose and was dumped into the ocean somewhere off the Southern California coast.

Detectives said Burgess gave Jou heroin and cocaine before she passed out while seated in a chair in Burgess' bedroom.

"A lot of people at the party corroborated it," Los Angeles police Detective Ron Ito said in March.

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