As we reported yesterday, Jerice Hunter, the Glendale mom eyed in the disappearance of her missing 5-year-old daughter, Jhessye Shockley, has hired an attorney after getting thrown in jail -- and then released without charges being filed against her -- last week.
We spoke to Hunter's attorney, Scott Maasen, yesterday, and he says his client's arrest -- particularly the timing of the arrest -- is "real fishy." He also says the community's heart should be with Hunter -- after all, her daughter's missing (though, she remains the "number one focus" of the investigation into the girl's disappearance).
Maasen implies that the Glendale Police Department is attempting to try Hunter -- who spent four years in a California prison for child abuse -- in the media, with little evidence to support their apparent theory that she killed her daughter, whom police say they don't expect to find alive.
See our report on Hunter's arrest here.
"At this point, it's been kind of a one-sided story -- frankly, the facts of the case haven't [come] out," Maasen says. "The Glendale Police Department has been releasing selected bits of information. It's great sound bytes -- try her and convict her in the court of public opinion and the media. And that's wrong.
"The timing of [the arrest] certainly is unusual," he continues. "Was it coincidental that it happened right before Thanksgiving, when a lot of people have time off and are watching TV and reading the papers?"
Despite the fact that the Maricopa County Attorney's Office has recently decided to hold off on charging several people who've been arrested -- including two teachers accused of feeling up students (more on that here) -- it's bizarre for that to happen in a case like Hunter's.
"Glendale police have changed the whole record now into 'we think the mom did it.' If they have evidence, and they have all the information, I say let's release it," Maasen, who used to be a county prosecutor, says. "Show us your cards -- show us what you have. If you don't have it, and you're just smearing [Hunter's] name, that's wrong -- that's against the rules, that's not fair, and that's not how this process is played out."
The evidence against Hunter -- that we know about -- is somewhat thin, by legal standards. There's no physical evidence -- again, that we know about.
According to her arrest report, Hunter's other children -- ages 6, 9, and 13 -- told police they heard Hunter beat Shockley in early September. They say their mother kept the 5-year-old in a closet after the beating. The last time anyone saw the girl alive was September 22, weeks before Hunter called police on October 11.
Additionally, Hunter's other children say she cleaned her apartment with bleach a few days before calling police, and she instructed them to lie to police about the last time they saw the girl -- directing them to tell the cops the last time they saw Shockley was the day Hunter reported her missing. The last time the children saw the girl, they told police, she looked like a "zombie," and the closet where she was being kept by Hunter smelled like "dead people."
Maasen says that because of the lack of physical evidence against Hunter, she probably never should have been arrested in the first place.
"I haven't seen a shred of physical evidence at all," Maasen says. "[Hunter's arrest] was based upon the 6, the 9, and the 13-year-olds' statements only. There is nothing else that I've seen to corroborate those statements.
"The county attorney's gonna be real reluctant to go on kids', and fairly young kids', statements that are uncorroborated. That's not a very good case to walk into court with."
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Based on the apparent lack of evidence, Maasen says the community's heart should be with Hunter and her family, who are still looking for the missing girl.
"Obviously the community's emotions are so high and it's a story that a lot of people follow because it deals with a missing child," he says. "Everybody's heart goes out to anything bad that happens to kids, or missing kids, and the community's heart really should go out for the family, the Hunter family, and finding their daughter."
The County Attorney's Office says it is working with the Glendale Police Department as it continues to build a case against Hunter. Police plan to search a city landfill for the girl's remains in coming weeks.