Opening statements in Jerice Hunter’s murder trial were delivered Wednesday in the Valley.
Hunter, of Glendale, is accused of murdering her 5-year-old daughter, Jhessye Shockley, who hasn’t been found after being reported missing on Oct. 11, 2011.
The jury-selection process in Hunter’s trial began more than three weeks ago.
Hunter, 41, has pleaded not guilty to child abuse and first-degree murder charges related to Shockley.
Investigators believe Shockley was killed and her body dumped in a trash bin days before Hunter reported her missing, although a 96-day search of a local landfill failed to yield a body.
“The defendant threw her away like trash,” prosecutor Jeannette Gallagher
Hunter told police she left Shockley at home with her older siblings while she was out running errands.
The mother was initially arrested in September 2012 and charged with murder. Her trial was originally scheduled for August 2014, but several delays pushed it back to March 2, 2015.
The original pool of jurors was about 120 people deep earlier this month.
Prior to Shockley’s disappearance, Hunter had a history with child abuse accusations. In October 2005, she was arrested in California on child abuse charges, and she served more almost four years of prison time after pleading no contest to corporal punishment.
Hunter squarely looked at jurors as the prosecutor laid out her case at the beginning of the trial.
Hunter’s attorney, Candice Shoemaker, said her client didn’t kill Jhessye and
believes her daughter is still alive.
“There is no body. There is no proof she
is dead,” said Shoemaker, who didn’t offer an alternative theory on what became
of the child.
Shoemaker said two people saw Shockley at her apartment complex within hours of
the report of her being missing.
The defense attorney also told jurors to take a hard look at the upcoming
testimony of Shockley’s older sister, who is now 17 years old and allegedly hasn’t spoken to her mother in three years. The older child
was in charge of Shockley when the 5-year-old turned up missing and didn’t
alleged abuse when she was first spoke to police, Shoemaker said.
Gallagher said it’s unknown whether Jhessye was killed by malnutrition,
dehydration or from injuries she suffered.
“The answer to that question will
never be known,” she said.
In the weeks before the child was reported missing, Hunter explained her
daughter’s 19-day absence from school by saying she had pink eye and ringworm
and provided inconsistent details to the girl’s school on efforts to get her
medical treatment, Gallagher said.
Authorities said Hunter had instructed her other children to lie to police by
falsely saying that Shockley left the apartment while the mother went to a
Shockley’s 17-year-old sister later revealed that she witnessed her
mother’s abuse of Shockley, saying that she found her younger sister beaten up
and describing the closet where she was locked up as smelling like death, the
Gallagher said Hunter got a neighbor to drive her from Glendale to a Tempe
apartment where Hunter said she was going to sell a suitcase full of clothes and
shoes. Once they arrived, Hunter told her neighbor that the buyer wasn’t there
and that the items up for sale could be left in a trash bin, the prosecutor
The neighbor saw Hunter put on plastic gloves, remove from the trunk the
suitcase that’s believed to contain the child’s decomposing body and drop it in
the trash, Gallagher said.
Hunter’s trial is expected to last until early May. The jury-selection process went about a week longer than anticipated.
Judge Rosa Mroz of Maricopa County Superior Court ruled Monday that video and audio recording of the trail will generally be permitted, but Mroz prohibited live-streaming.
She also barred video recording of the testimony of three particular witnesses, citing the impact it may cause on Hunter’s right to receive a fair trial.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.