Man imprisoned in SDSU student's death to get early release

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John Steven Burgess, in 2007 photo.
Donna Jou

A sex offender who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the 2007 disappearance of a San Diego State University student is expected to be released from prison Friday after serving less than half of a five-year sentence.

The early release of John Steven Burgess, 38, has devastated the family of Donna Jou, who has argued for tougher sentencing in the case.


"He didn't get proper justice. He got five years in prison for destroying an innocent daughter of mine with a bright future," said Jou's father, Reza Jou, of Rancho Santa Margarita. "He must be kept behind bars for the rest of his life. This man should not be free."

Burgess, who has an extensive criminal record, is to be released Friday from the California Institution for Men in Chino after serving two years, according to a letter sent to the Jous from the state Department of Corrections.


Prison officials said this week they do not make release dates public, but they are required by law to notify the victim or victim's family 90 days before the release.

Under state law, Burgess had the ability to shave off up to a third of his sentence with good behavior.

The Jou family and supporters are planning to protest the release Friday morning in front of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

"This case is beyond ours. It's the case of every parent in this country," Jou said. "The law must be revised to protect our communities. The law has to have safeguards for our innocent children."

Burgess met Jou, 19, through a Craigslist ad, and he took her to a party on June 23, 2007, at his rented Los Angeles-area home. He told officials he gave her alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and heroin. He told a judge that Jou was dead from an overdose when he awoke the next morning.

He told her family in a jailhouse meeting that he put her body in the trunk of his car and began driving to her family's Orange County home, but then panicked and dumped her body in the ocean.

The college student's body has not been found.

The family still doesn't believe Burgess' account of how she died.


"Despite his confession, the facts of this case in no way fully support the statements given by Mr. Burgess as to what happened between my daughter and him," her father said in a statement during Burgess' sentencing hearing in May 2009.

Burgess was sentenced in Los Angeles County to five years in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and concealment of an accidental death.

Burgess' criminal past includes a 2002 battery conviction and a 2003 conviction of performing a lewd act against a child. He was sentenced to 146 days in jail and required to register as a sex offender. He later served three years in prison for failing to register.