Family wants case reopened; believes daughter may have been sold to human traffickers
Case raises concerns over safety of advertising on Craigslist
By Miriam Raftery
April 19, 2011 (San Diego) – John Steven Burgess confessed to drugging and killing San Diego State University freshman Donna Jou after meeting her on Craigslist, where she advertised tutoring services. Burgess, 38, a convicted sex offender, claimed he accidentally overdosed Jou and panicked, then dumped her body in the ocean. She was never found.
Burgess was sentenced to just five years in prison, convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He sought early release for good behavior after serving just two years. After protests by the family, California Deparment of Corrections last week announced it would release Burgess from state custody, though he will serve another year in Los Angeles County Jail. The news sparked outrage due to his dark history of sexual predation and violence--even before he met Jou.
Case raises questions over criminal justice system
Burgess was previously convicted with lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under 14. He also spent three years in jail for failing to register as a sex offender. San Diego Examiner reports he he also had three separate convictions for battery including beating up a girlfriend and was also charged with trying to force a teen girl into prostitution. The string of offenses has led some to question why the “three strikes” law was not applied to keep Burgess behind bars for life.
Family hires own investigators
The family has hired private investigators to look into whether Burgess may have been involved in other crimes. Investigators will also work to uncover what really happened to Donna Jou.
“They have to investigate,” Reza Jou, Donna’s father, told ECM news partner 10 News. “They have to find out the truth…The thing that he’s telling…there’s no proof one way or the other.” The family wants the Los Angeles District Attorney to reopen the case—something that can’t be done unless new evidence is found.
Donna’s mother, Nili Jou, calls Burgess a “monster” but doesn’t believe his confession. “I believe my daughter is a victim of human trafficking and whoever is protecting this guy—sending the money—maybe has my daughter,” the San Diego Examiner reports. The family has noted in media interviews that someone has been sending Burgess $200 each month in prison, also posting bail and clearing out his storage unit at a cost of over $75,000.
Suspicion of human trafficking
Author and violence expert Susan Murphy-Milano has stated, “This disturbing case is not about time served, but a dangerous sexual predator who, in my opinion, willingly, like a good foot soldier in his organization, falls on the sword for a much larger and dangerous international crime ring, human trafficking, child pornography, and prostitution.”
Human trafficking has become an increasingly serious problem in San Diego, where law enforcement experts have warned that gangs are now profitting off trafficking including prostitution. San Diego legislator Marty Block has introduced a bill to provide more tools to law enforcement in human trafficking cases.
Online advertising safety at issue
The case highlights not only flaws in Califiornia’s criminal justice system, but also highlights potential dangers of advertising on sites such as Craigslist.
Craigslist has come under fire in recent years for advertising policies that have allowed numerous ads for illegal services including prostitution and human trafficking, says Greg Collier, founder of Geebo, a company that positions itself as a safer alternative to Craigslist. Two serial killers, one still at large, have met their victims through Craigslist—in both instances, meeting women who advertised prostitution services online. Although the company later dropped ads blatantly offering adult services, critics contend that thinly-veiled prostitution advertising on Craigslist continues because the site does not pre-screen ads.
“Geebo personally reviews every classified submitted,” says Collier. “by taking the time to screen each submission we are able to keep human trafficking, prostitution, scams, and other evils off of Geebo. Unfortunately due to the lack of monitoring, these problems have become quite rampant on other classified sites.”
Such diligence may have prevented the murders of more than 13 victims of the latest Craigslist killer in New Jersey, who were allegedly prostitutes. But Jou’s ad for tutoring would likely not have raised any red flags even at sites that are diligent about pre-screening content posted.
Safety experts recommend that if you choose to advertise online, it’s best to avoid having strangers come to your home. Meet in a public place and bring a friend. Make sure to notify others of your whereabouts and who you are meeting-- and inform the individual you meet that you’ve provided this information to others, for your own protection. In addition, choosing an on line site that screens out illicit services or bogus offers may reduce the risk that predators or scamsters will be trolling the site for victims.
Meanwhile, the Jou family holds out hope that their daughter may be alive and continues to search for her, since no physical evidence of her death has been found. “Without the proof,” her father told 10 News, “I cannot just presume that my child is gone.”