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Police believe Arizona girl was killed, dumped in trash

December 22, 2011 |  6:00 am

Arizona missing girl
Police in Glendale, Ariz., think they may know where Jhessye Shockley, the 5-year-old girl who disappeared in October, ended up: in a trash bin across town.

Authorities said Wednesday that they believed the girl was killed, then dumped in nearby Tempe before her mother, Jerice Hunter, reported her missing Oct. 11, the Associated Press reported. They did not say whom they think Jhessye’s killer is, although a police spokesman repeated that Hunter remained their “No. 1 focus.”

Initially, Hunter raised a fuss about her child. She held a small rally at the state Capitol, where she said police and the media were shortchanging her daughter’s disappearance because the family is black and Hunter has a criminal record.  (Hunter pleaded no contest to child abuse in California and served nearly four years in prison.)

About a month later, police arrested Hunter on suspicion of child abuse “directly related to Jhessye.”  The documents they filed in court were gasp-inducing.

Soon after Jhessye vanished, child welfare officials removed Hunter’s three other children –- ages 6, 9 and 13 –- from her home, court papers said. After a pregnant Hunter gave birth, officials took the newborn too. 

The teenager eventually told investigators that Hunter instructed them to lie to police about their sister wandering off, the court papers said, and the last time they’d seen Jhessye was in September -– weeks before she was reported missing.

The teenager also told investigators, according to the court papers, that Hunter had kept a bruised and black-eyed Jhessye in a closet. The teenager compared Jhessye to a zombie and the closet to a grave that “smelled like dead people,” according to the court papers, and said Hunter had used incense to try to conceal the smell. Shortly before she reported Jhessye missing, the teenager was quoted as saying that Hunter cleaned her shoes and the closet with bleach.

Hunter was released a few days after her arrest without being charged. Prosecutors told the AP that they didn’t want to box themselves out of later charging Hunter with murder. Hunter’s attorney, Scott Maasen, told the Arizona Republic that Hunter was innocent and that he had hired private investigators to track down Jhessye.

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-- Ashley Powers in Las Vegas

Twitter.com/ashleypowers

Photo: Shirley Johnson, the grandmother of missing Arizona girl Jhessye Shockley, hangs a poster about the 5-year-old's disappearance in October. Credit: Amanda Lee Myers/Associated Press

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