FREEHOLD, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey police have identified a child whose skeletal remains were found in 2005 and charged three people, including her aunt and uncle, with covering up her death.
Authorities said the body was that of 9-year-old Jon-Niece Jones, who was abused and died at her aunt's New York City home in August 2002.
Investigators allege the girl's mother and uncle, and her aunt's boyfriend, then drove the body to New Jersey, set it on fire and left it in an Upper Freehold park.
"The family members of Jon-Niece Jones turned a blind eye to the constant physical and mental abuse this girl endured for years," said Col. Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, which investigated the case with the county prosecutor's office. "Because of the hard work by investigators, these three suspects will now have to answer for their alleged unthinkable actions."
Jon-Niece's aunt, Likisha Jones, 39, of Manhattan; her uncle James Jones, 35, of Brooklyn; and Godfrey Gibson, who is now married to Likisha, were arrested Tuesday on charges of hindering apprehension, tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice. Gibson is charged with an additional hindering count. Prosecutors said he threatened a witness in the case.
Assistant Prosecutor Marc LeMieux said Jon-Niece died "following years of abuse and neglect by her mother," Elisha Jones. She died in 2002.
"This body was thrown into the woods," leaving no opportunity to "be given the proper burial for what the mother has done to this child," LeMieux said during a court appearance Wednesday by the three. He said Gibson drove the car containing Jon-Niece's body to New Jersey.
Bail was set at $75,000 for Gibson and $40,000 for the other two defendants, who were being held at the county jail. They did not enter pleas, and all three requested public defenders. All three wore belt cuffs in court.
Officials used DNA to identify the remains, including a skull and jawbone, which were discovered by a hunter in tall grass. LeMieux said they were partly burned. The remains also showed evidence of scarring and two fractured ribs that had healed, he said.
Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said a tip received within the last two months allowed authorities to identify the girl.
The case got attention in 2009 when detectives appeared on the TV show "America's Most Wanted" to seek help in solving the case.
Prior to the break in the case, investigators had estimated the child was a girl between the ages of 5 and 9 and had died between 2001 and 2004.