A jury found Jerice Hunter guilty Monday of murdering her 5-year-old daughter, Jhessye Shockley.
It appeared the jury had made up its mind on the verdict during closing arguments, when they rarely took notes. Instead several of them were seen checking the clock while one spun in his chair.
The first jury deliberated for about 11 hours. A pregnant juror was replaced Monday, hours before the verdict was read. The second panel was ordered to begin deliberations anew and took less than two hours to reach a verdict.
— Monica Lindstrom (@monicalindstrom) April 27, 2015
The jury found Hunter guilty on all aggravating factors. Hunter will be sentenced June 5. She faces a minimum of 21 years (for child abuse) and a maximum of natural life in prison.
Hunter, who has been in jail for the murder since 2012, has remained mostly emotionless in court, only breaking down on what would have been Jhessye’s ninth birthday.
The girl’s body has never been found.
Family member removed from court for outburst after verdict. Screams “oh god my baby is not dead”, calls judge a racist. #KTAR
— Cooper Rummell (@CooperRummell) April 27, 2015
Hunter, 41, had pleaded not guilty to the charge of first-degree murder and related child-abuse charges.
She was not present for the first four years of Jhessye’s life while serving time for child abuse in California.
Lisa Vance, Hunter’s first cousin who raised Jhessye, was one of the witnesses who testified for the prosecution.
Under oath, Vance said Jhessye was an outgoing little girl until she was in the presence of her mother.
“Jhessye was very withdrawn, very quiet, almost afraid to speak in the presence of Jerice,” Vance said.
Police records showed Jhessye’s siblings told investigators in the days after her disappearance that Hunter allegedly abused her and kept the girl in a closet.
Jhessye’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, Maricopa County prosecutor Jeannette Gallagher said.
Before the state rested, an expert testified that an 8-by-11-inch area on the carpet inside the closet where Jhessye was allegedly abused was found soaked with blood, most of which was probably Jhessye’s.
Hunter’s attorney, Candice Shoemaker, said during the trial that her client didn’t kill Jhessye and believed her daughter was still alive.
“There is no body. There is no proof she is dead,” Shoemaker said.
Prosecutors believed Hunter disposed of Jhessey’s body in a Tempe apartment complex dumpster two weeks before reporting her missing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.