Closing arguments begin in trial over girl's disappearance

PHOENIX (AP) -- An Arizona mother charged with murder in the 2011 disappearance of her 5-year-old daughter had beaten and neglected the child before killing her, putting her body in a suitcase and throwing it in a trash bin, a prosecutor said Monday during closing arguments. 

Jerice Hunter, 41, also is suspected of keeping her daughter Jhessye Shockley in a bedroom closet at the family's suburban Phoenix home and depriving her of food and water. Prosecutors displayed photos of the closet to jurors as they made their closing argument.

Hunter pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder and child abuse. Her lawyers say there's no proof that Jhessye is dead after authorities sifted through 9,500 tons of garbage over 96 days without finding her remains.

Prosecutor Blaine Gadow told jurors that DNA evidence from bloodstains in a carpet, combined with testimony from Hunter's teenage daughter, show that Hunter neglected and beat Jhessye until she died. 

"She knew what a zombie looked like, to her that's what her sister looked like in that closet," Gadow said during closing arguments. "From that direct evidence we can infer the defendant beat Jhessye until she was broken and bleeding."

Hunter reported Jhessye missing in October 2011. Police say the mother told them she left Jhessye with the girl's older siblings while she ran errands, and the child was gone when she returned to the family's Glendale apartment. 

Authorities say Hunter was arrested after inconsistencies mounted in her account and witnesses came forward. 

In the weeks before the child was reported missing, Hunter explained her daughter's 19-day absence from school by saying she had pinkeye and ringworm, Gadow said. But Hunter never made an appointment to take care of ringworm, and later missed another doctor's appointment for Jhessye, the prosecutor said. Instead, Gadow said Jhessye hadn't gone to school because of injuries inflicted by Hunter. 

Other inconsistencies included Hunter asking a friend to drive her across town to sell clothes when she was actually disposing of her daughter's body, Gadow said. 

"Where is Jhessye's body we don't know. She got away with that. Don't let her get away with murder," he said.

Hunter's attorney, Candice Shoemaker, said previously that her client didn't kill Jhessye and believes her daughter is alive.

"There is no body. There is no proof she is dead," said Shoemaker, who offered no alternative theory on what became of the child. 

Shoemaker said two people saw Jhessye at the family's apartment complex within hours of her being reported missing. 

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. Her oldest child, then 14, told police his mother routinely beat the children. 

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