- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Police said Tuesday they think a 19-year-old college student who went missing almost two years ago died of a drug overdose at a party, and they charged a convicted sex offender with involuntary manslaughter.

San Diego State student Donna Jou’s body has never been found, and Tuesday’s announcement was the first official assertion that she is dead. The last time her family saw her she rode away from her Rancho Santa Margarita home on the back of a motorcycle driven by a man authorities identified as John Steven Burgess. She was later seen at a party at his West Los Angeles home.

Burgess, a longtime suspect in her disappearance, is serving a three-year prison term for failing to register as a sex offender. Besides the involuntary manslaughter charge, the 36-year-old faces new charges of misdemeanor concealment of an accidental death, sale or transportation of heroin and sale or transportation of cocaine. He pleaded not guilty to all charges Tuesday.

“I believe (Jou) was at this party in the Palms area (of Los Angeles) and she was inducing narcotics, and the cause of her death is most likely gonna be overdose,” Detective Ron Ito, the lead investigator, said at a news conference.

Burgess gave Jou heroin and cocaine at party at his house, Ito said. Witnesses said she passed out in a chair and died of an accidental overdose.

Burgess told investigators he rented a boat and dumped her body in the ocean, he said.

“We haven’t given up, but at this point we have halted the search for further evaluation,” Ito said.

Jou’s family had held out hope amid vigils, volunteer searches and offers of reward money for her safe return.

Her mother, Nili Jou, was devastated.

“It is so hard,” she told reporters while weeping. “All this time waiting and waiting and hoping, and now _ it’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard _ and Donna did not deserve this.”

The district attorney’s office said in a statement that all the alleged crimes occurred on June 23, 2007, the last day her family saw her.

Her mother received a text-message the following day that said her cell phone battery was dying, but she’d be home soon.

In early July 2007, the license plate of a pickup truck belonging to Burgess and his motorcycle helmet were found at a Los Angeles intersection about 1 1/2 miles from his house.

An Orange County sheriff’s investigator said at the time that authorities received an e-mail from Burgess offering his “attempt to communicate his thoughts and his feelings of essentially what may have occurred.”

Burgess was subsequently arrested in Florida and extradited to California to face the charge of having failed to register as a sex offender when he was in Los Angeles.

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

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