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Missing Arizona Girl's Mom Arrested, Police Call Her the Main Focus

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Jerice Hunter, left, was arrested on child abuse charges "directly related to Jhessye" Shockley, right, who has been missing since Oct. 11, 2011, police said.AP

Police said Monday they've arrested the mother of a missing 5-year-old Arizona girl on child abuse charges.

Jerice Hunter was arrested on child abuse charges "directly related to Jhessye," Glendale Police Sgt. Brent Coombs said. Jhessye (JES'-ee) Shockley has been missing since Oct. 11.

Coombs said Monday investigators don't believe they'll find the girl alive and that Hunter "is our No. 1 focus."

Hunter's apartment was surrounded by police tape Monday as investigators in white jumpsuits searched inside. Police declined to say what investigators were doing.

Police have said they believed Jhessye wandered from her Glendale apartment while Hunter was running an errand. The girl's three older siblings were the last to see her.

Police have repeatedly said they had no evidence, suspects or promising leads.

State Child Protective Services removed Hunter's four other children, including a newborn, from her home last month but declined to say why, and police said they had no involvement in the decision to take them away.

Hunter came under scrutiny during the investigation for an October 2005 arrest with her then-husband George Shockley in California on child abuse charges. Hunter pleaded no contest to corporal punishment and served about four years in prison before she was released on parole in May 2010.

Hunter's oldest child, 14 at the time, told police that his mother routinely beat the children.

George Shockley is a convicted sex offender and is still in a California prison. Hunter has told reporters she didn't know about his past until they were arrested and now has nothing to do with him.

Hunter's mother, Shirley Johnson, said her daughter is a changed woman since she got out of prison and is a good mother to her children.

Hunter was eight months pregnant at the time of Jhessye's disappearance. While still pregnant, she demonstrated at the state capitol in Phoenix, saying her daughter's case wasn't getting the attention it deserved because she is black.

At the Oct. 24 demonstration, Hunter condemned members of the media for focusing too much on her past and said she had nothing to hide.

"I have been forthcoming with law enforcement from day one. I let them turn my home into a crime scene hours after I reported that I couldn't find my daughter," she said. "They didn't find anything, but they're holding my children hostage."

She also criticized the Glendale police department's investigation.

"We feel that law enforcement is not active in finding Jhessye and that they're more active in persecuting me instead of finding out where she is," Hunter said.

In the days following Jhessye's disappearance, more than 100 officers and volunteers searched for her in pools, garbage bins and shrubs. They interviewed and searched the homes of registered sex offenders in the area, and stopped at every door to spread news about the missing girl.

Police also cordoned off an area of a local landfill where garbage from Jhessye's neighborhood would have been taken the day of and day after her disappearance, but have not searched it.

Coombs said last week that the FBI was working to schedule a lie detector test with Hunter, but it was unclear whether that occurred.

FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson declined Monday to say whether the exam was held, or comment on the case.

The telephone at Hunter's home went unanswered Monday, and Johnson did not immediately return repeated calls for comment.

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