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Updated Sep 6, 2012 - 5:58 pm

Jhessye Shockley's mother arrested for murder, abuse

Jerice Hunter. (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)

The mother of a missing Glendale girl has been arrested on charges of first-degree murder and child abuse.

Jerice Hunter was arrested Thursday in connection with the disappearance of her daughter, Jhessye Shockley.

Hunter's arrest was approved by a grand jury indictment on Thursday, despite authorities not finding a body.

"This was a natural progression of the case," said Glendale Interim Police Chief Debora Black, who refused to comment on what specific evidence prompted the arrest.

Hunter's lawyer Scott Maasen said his client maintains her innocence.

``The indictment is not evidence,'' Maasen said. ``There is no body in this case. Cases without finding bodies are very difficult cases.''

County Attorney Bill Montgomery said his office ``has successfully prosecuted cases in which the victim's body was never found.''

``We now have the opportunity to seek justice for Jhessye and uncover the truth behind her disappearance,'' Montgomery added.

Police believe the child's body was disposed of days before Hunter reported her missing Oct. 11.

A 96-day search at a Phoenix-area landfill ended in late June without finding the girl's remains.

Glendale Police Chief Debora Black said at a news conference that Shockley's ``final resting place'' likely is at the bottom of the Butterfield Landfill in Mobile, south of Phoenix, but no additional searches are scheduled.

She said 280 officers sifted through more than 9,500 tons of trash from early February to late June without success.

``They worked tirelessly to accomplish two goals: to find Jhessye and to hold the person responsible for her disappearance accountable,'' Black added. ``We are confident with the indictment and arrest, we will achieve our second goal of securing justice for Jhessye.''

Hunter was arrested in November on suspicion of child abuse but later released from jail with the charge dropped. Prosecutors said then that they wanted to continue investigating and were worried that Hunter would not be eligible for a potential murder charge if she was convicted of abusing Shockley, a situation known as double jeopardy.

At the news conference, authorities said Hunter was arrested based on the collection of evidence in the case since October.

Police records show Jhessye's siblings told investigators in the days after her disappearance that Hunter allegedly abused her and kept the girl in a closet.

In October 2005, Hunter was arrested with her then-husband on child abuse charges in California. Hunter pleaded no contest to corporal punishment and served about four years in prison before she was released on parole in May 2010.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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