A convicted sex offender who admitted to causing the death of a college student was released from Los Angeles County Jail today after serving half of a five year sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
John Steven Burgess, 41, told police he gave San Diego State University student Donna Jou cocaine, heroin and alcohol and threw her body into the ocean after she overdosed. Despite an extensive search, Jou's body was never found and the most severe charge authorities could pin on Burgess was involuntary manslaughter.
"It's an injustice to all of us," said Lisa Jou, Donna's older sister. "There is a fatal flaw in the system. You're almost telling [criminals that] if you can dispose the body and no one can find it, it's one year, maximum."
Donna Jou, 19, met Burgess after he answered her Craigslist post advertising her services as a math tutor while she was staying at her parents' home in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., during her summer vacation.
She was last seen on June 23, 2007, on the back of Burgess' motorcycle, heading to a party at a Los Angeles-area home, her family said.
Jou's parents believe Burgess lied to game the justice system and really knows the truth about what happened to their daughter.
"We have approached him numerous times," said Reza Jou, Donna's father. "I have sent him letters. He has never responded. He has memorized the same story. He knows if he changes his story and tells us the truth its going to be a big problem."
Reza Jou said the family hired a team of experts to search the ocean area where Burgess said he dumped Jou's body. Nothing was found.
"We are not satisfied with the way the case was handled," he said. "My child was not a drug user. My child was a straight-A student. These are all accusations."
Burgess painted his pickup truck and fled California for Florida. He used an assumed name: Logan Anderson.
On July 9, 2007, police recovered a black tool box that belonged to Burgess about a mile and a half from his house that was designed to fit into the back of his Ford Ranger pickup truck. In it were various items, including a rope, scrub brush and license plate, SINJIN 1, that was registered to his truck.
Police finally caught up with Burgess in Florida, where he was arrested on drug charges. It was also discovered he had failed to register as a sex offender for his previous conviction of lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor.
It wasn't until May of 2009 that Burgess shared his story with police about the night Jou disappeared.
He was sentenced to five years in prison for his "stated role" in Jou's death.
But her parents said they will never buy his story and feel let down by the criminal justice system.
Jou's parents have repeatedly asked the district attorney to reopen their daughter's murder case, citing a tip that she may have been buried in the Palms area of Los Angeles.
"What they have asked us to do is not back up by any evidence or justification to proceed," Sandi Gibbons, a spokesperson for the L.A. County District Attorney's Office, told ABC 7 in October.
Standing outside the criminal justice building in Los Angeles on the day Burgess became a free man, members of the Jou family vowed they will never stop seeking answers.
"Some days, I feel she is alive and, some days I don't think the same way," Reza Jou said. "[But] I still have hope to see her alive."
"This man, a sex offender, is getting out. A monster is getting out," said Donna's mother, Nilli Jou. "We have to watch our kids, our sisters, our mothers."
Burgess was transferred from prison to the Los Angeles County Men's central Jail in April to serve time for a misdemeanor.