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Sex offender charged in 2007 disappearance of San Diego State student

March 17, 2009 |  3:29 pm

A registered sex offender who was due to be paroled from state prison now faces additional criminal charges stemming from the disappearance -- and presumed death -- of 19-year-old Donna Jou, a student at San Diego State University.

John Steven Burgess, 36, was scheduled to be released from state prison after serving more than a year in prison for failing to register as a sex offender before his arrest Saturday by Los Angeles police detectives. Today, authorities charged Burgess, long considered a suspect in Jou's death, with involuntary manslaughter, according to sources familiar with the case.

In court today, Burgess pleaded not guilty and bail was set at $1 million. His next hearing is scheduled for April 1.

Detectives said Burgess met Jou on Craigslist.org, and the pair exchanged e-mails and phone calls.

Burgess lured Jou from her mother's Rancho Santa Margarita apartment onto the back of his motorcycle on June 23, 2007.

Jou was last seen alive at Burgess' dilapidated rental house in Palms. It was Burgess, investigators say, who repainted his 1998 Ford Ranger and fled after Jou vanished, and it was his tool box -- containing a motorcycle helmet, his truck's license plate, rope, rubber gloves and a scrub brush -- that turned up near his house.

Los Angeles Police Det. Ron Ito said today that Burgess told investigators he had dumped the body in the ocean, and police searched for it off the Southern California coast within the last couple of weeks.

"We haven't given up, but at this point we have halted the search for further evaluation," Ito said, adding that investigators believe Burgess dumped Jou's body a few days after her disappearance and that she overdosed on drugs he gave her. Ito also said police believe Burgess acted alone.

Burgess went to Florida in 2007 after police sought to question him in connection with Jou's disappearance, and he was extradited to California. He has refused to talk to authorities about his contacts with Jou during his time in state prison for failing to notify authorities of his residence.

Prosecutors said Burgess has officially been charged with involuntary manslaughter. He also was charged with one count each of sale or transportation of heroin and sale or transportation of cocaine, in addition to one misdemeanor count of concealment of an accidental death.

"It's been heartbreaking for the Jou family not to have known what happened to their daughter," said attorney Gloria Allred, who is representing the family. "They knew she was last seen with John Steven Burgess at his home.

"It was also excruciating for them to learn that Mr. Burgess indicated that he had information about Donna but declined to provide that information to authorities unless a deal was made in reference to his prosecution for failing to register as a sexual predator," she continued. "No such deal was made and he went to prison."

Since then, Allred said the family has continued to ask Burgess for information, and the family sent him cards "telling him how much they miss her."

"We hope that today with the arraignment that there will be justice for Donna," Allred said.

-- Andrew Blankstein and Ari B. Bloomekatz