- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - An Arizona mother was sentenced to life in prison without parole Friday for the death of her 5-year-old daughter whose body was never found.

Jerice Hunter was convicted in April of first-degree murder and child abuse in the death of Jhessye Shockley.

Prosecutors said Hunter had a friend give her a ride to a neighboring city so she could dump a suitcase containing the body in a trash bin before telling authorities the child was missing in 2011.

Prosecutors said the girl was beaten, neglected, deprived of food and water, and confined to a closet before her body was dumped. She was never found, even though officers picked through 9,500 tons of garbage at landfills.

Hunter, 41, showed no reaction when a Maricopa County Superior Court judge read the sentence of natural life in prison for the murder count and a consecutive 20-year prison term for child abuse.

Before she was sentenced, Hunter asked the judge for leniency.

“I know I’ve been made out to be a horrible person and a monster of a mother,” Hunter said. “I’ve been convicted of a horrible crime, which I most definitely did not commit.”

Hunter has maintained her innocence since Glendale police identified her as a suspect about a month after her daughter disappeared. Her lawyers said there was no proof the girl was dead.

Defense attorney Candice Shoemaker said Jhessye’s teacher and a Child Protective Services agent who investigated the family did not notice any signs of abuse. The lawyer also said none of Hunter’s other children had shown signs of abuse at the time.

Hunter was arrested in 2005 with her then-husband on child abuse charges in California. She pleaded no contest to corporal punishment and served about four years in prison before she was released on parole in 2010.

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