Suspect in Audrii Cunningham killing was previously accused of sex crime involving 10 year old

Correction: An earlier version of the story misidentified the 2007 victim's age.

The man facing a capital murder charge in the case of a missing 10-year-old girl found dead in Texas has a violent criminal history and previously served prison time on charges of enticing a child after being accused of a sex crime involving an 10-year-old girl in 2007, court records obtained by USA TODAY Wednesday show.

Don Steven McDougal, 42, was likely the last person to see Audrii Cunningham alive before she disappeared from her small Texas town on the morning of Feb. 15, authorities said this week.

Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons said McDougal was supposed to be dropping off Audrii Cunningham at the school bus when she disappeared from Livingston, about 70 miles northeast of Houston.

After a five-day search, Cunningham's body was found in a river Tuesday, the sheriff announced during a news conference.

An Amber Alert was issued on Feb. 15, 2024 for Audrii Cunningham, 11, of Livingston, Texas.
An Amber Alert was issued on Feb. 15, 2024 for Audrii Cunningham, 11, of Livingston, Texas.

During a Tuesday night news conference, Polk County District Attorney Shelly Sitton said law enforcement was preparing the “appropriate arrest warrant” to charge McDougal in connection to Audrii's death. McDougal, the sheriff has said, was likely the last person to see the girl alive.

McDougal remained jailed Wednesday in Polk County after being arrested Friday for an unrelated felony charge of aggravated assault. On Wednesday, jail records showed an additional charge had been added to McDougal's booking sheet: Capital murder.

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McDougal previously sentenced on charges of enticing 10-year-old girl

McDougal previously spent time in prison after being convicted of two counts of enticing a child, according to court records obtained by USA TODAY. The incarceration marked one of seven stints in jail and prison McDougal served in Texas since the early 2000s, according to information from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

In 2008, McDougal pleaded no contest to the two felony charges which stemmed from an incident involving an 10-year-old girl in Brazoria County, south of Houston.

According to a March 31, 2007 offense report, McDougal was arrested on one felony count of indecency with a child, a sexual offense, after a Brazoria County Sheriff's Office deputy wrote he was dispatched to a home in reference to "a past sexual assault."

At the home, the report reads, a man told the deputy McDougal “got in bed with his niece,” age 10 at the time, and “tried to remove her pants.”

The deputy wrote he later met with the girl's mother who reported her daughter told her McDougal attempted to remove her daughter’s pants after getting into bed with her and called the girl, "his ex-wife’s name."

McDougal was set to go to trial in June 2008 on the child indecency charge, but in September 2008, court records show, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charges.

He was sentenced to two years in prison for the crime, records show.

Under Texas law, a person commits an offense of enticing a child if the individual, with the intent to interfere with the lawful custody of a child under age 18, "knowingly entices, persuades, or takes the child from the custody of the parent or guardian."

USA TODAY has reached out to the attorney who represented McDougal in the child enticing case.

McDougal also received a three-year sentence in 2003 for felony assault of a public servant in Liberty County, as well as a four-year sentence in 2010 for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon out of Harris County, where Houston is located.

Most recently, he was released from prison in September 2022 after completing a two-year sentence for unauthorized use of a vehicle out of Liberty County. He also served jail time after being convicted of that same charge in Harris County in July 2009, records show.

Information about an attorney for McDougal was not immediately available.

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McDougal's connection to the Cunningham family

As the hunt for Cunningham intensified, Lyons told reporters McDougal lives in a trailer on the family’s property and sometimes took the girl to the bus stop and to school if she missed the bus.

Investigators have said they believe a dark blue 2003 Chevrolet Suburban, used by McDougal, was involved in her disappearance.

An Amber Alert was issued on Feb. 15, 2024 for Audrii Cunningham, 11, of Livingston, Texas. Her body was found five days later in a local river.
An Amber Alert was issued on Feb. 15, 2024 for Audrii Cunningham, 11, of Livingston, Texas. Her body was found five days later in a local river.

Body found in water

During Tuesday night's press conference, the sheriff said Avril's body was located in the Trinity River along U.S. 59, Lyons said.

"My heart aches with this news," Lyons told reporters when announcing the tragic discovery. "I express with my deepest sympathies and condolences to everyone who knew, who cared for and loved Audrii. We will continue to process the evidence that has been gathered to ensure justice for Audrii."

The Harris County medical examiner's office in Houston is handling the girl's autopsy and will determine her cause of death, Lyons said.

Contributing: Amaris Encinas, USA TODAY; Fernanda Figueroa, Austin American-Statesman

Natalie Neysa Alund is a senior reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at and follow her on X @nataliealund.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Don Steven McDougal charged in death of missing girl Audrii Cunningham