Suspect in O.C. case sentenced to 3 years

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Times Staff Writer

A child molester suspected in the disappearance of a Rancho Santa Margarita college student was sentenced to three years in prison Wednesday for failing to register as a sex offender, as the missing woman’s friends and relatives demanded his help in their search.

“All our waking moments are focused only on finding our daughter and discovering what has happened to her,” Reza Jou, father of 19-year-old Donna Jou, said on the steps of Los Angeles County Superior Court.

John Steven Burgess, 35, was sentenced after pleading no contest. Outside the courthouse, people chanted, “Please, Burgess, talk” and “Justice for Donna.”


Burgess has been identified as a suspect but not charged in the disappearance of Jou, a San Diego State biology student who was spending the summer at her mother’s Orange County home.

Jou’s family last saw her June 23, when Burgess, who authorities believe met Jou on the Internet, picked her up on a motorcycle to go to a party at his rented West Los Angeles home.

The next day, her mother received a text message from Jou’s cellphone that investigators believe was sent by someone else.

Shortly after her disappearance, Burgess reportedly repainted his 1998 Ford Ranger and left California. His toolbox, containing a motorcycle helmet, his truck’s license plate, a rope, rubber gloves and a scrub brush, later was found near his house by a passerby.

Burgess was arrested in Jacksonville, Fla., on July 25 after police saw him trying to get rid of a bag of cocaine. He was convicted of felony drug possession and sentenced to time served. Then he was extradited to Los Angeles on a warrant for failure to register as a sex offender and released on $250,000 bond.

The charge stemmed from a 2003 conviction for performing a lewd act on a child, for which he was given 146 days in jail, placed on three years’ probation and required to register as a sex offender. Burgess’ most recent arrest came last month after he was caught trying to steal several DVDs from a Florida store. Police said he was carrying a fake Social Security card and California driver’s license at the time of the arrest.


Burgess has declined to talk to investigators regarding Jou’s disappearance.

On Wednesday, his attorney, George Bird Jr., attributed the new three-year sentence to the attention the Jou case had attracted. “It’s never a satisfying situation for anyone to be sentenced to a term in prison,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a great deal of focus on John Burgess, which is why he was sentenced to the term that he was.”

Bird said no decision had been made on whether, or to what extent, Burgess would cooperate in the Jou investigation. “I’d need to know more about the case before I could state our position,” he said. “I’m learning more from reporters than from investigators.”


The Associated Press contributed to this report.