|For Immediate Release
Case # 04CF2415
May 30, 2007
Susan Kang Schroeder
Public Affairs Counsel
MOTHER TO STAND TRIAL IN 38-YEAR-OLD COLD CASE FOR MURDERING HER 3-YEAR-OLD GIRL
SANTA ANA – The trial of Donna J. Prentice, 60, will begin tomorrow on charges of murdering her 3-year-old daughter, Michelle, 38 years ago in Huntington Beach. Prentice’s former boyfriend and co-defendant in the case, James Michael Kent, died of natural causes prior to standing trial. Based on the sentencing laws of 1969, Prentice faces a maximum sentence of 5 years to life in prison if convicted. Opening statements are scheduled to begin tomorrow, May 31, 2007 at 9:00 a.m. in Department C-41, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.
In 1969, Prentice and her two children, Michelle and a 6-year-old son, were living with Kent and his son in Huntington Beach on Tigerfish Circle. In the summer of 1969, Michelle went missing. Within a few days, the couple is accused of packing their belongings into the car and leaving Orange County with the two remaining sons and the family pets. Prentice and Kent are accused of telling the children that there was not enough room in the car for Michelle, and she had been left in California with relatives. Prentice and Kent moved to Illinois with the boys and Michelle was never seen again. A missing persons report was never filed, and the couple split up some years later.
In 2001, 32 years after the toddler had gone missing, Michelle’s aunt hired a private investigator to look into the disappearance. The investigator brought the case to the Orange County District Attorney’s TracKRS (Taskforce review aimed at catching Killers, Rapist, and Sexual offenders) Unit in 2003. TracKRS investigators spent over a year reviewing the case and interviewing the defendants and witnesses in Florida, Illinois, Wisconsin, Las Vegas, and California. This is the oldest case solved by the TracKRS Unit, which was formed in 1997 to review Orange County cold cases dating back to 1960.
The case was filed against Prentice and Kent on August 9, 2004, and Prentice was extradited from Vernon County, Wisconsin on September 15, 2004 to face the murder charge. Kent, who was extradited from Lake County, Illinois on August 27, 2004, confessed to investigators that he had buried Michelle’s dead body in Williams Canyon, an unincorporated area of Orange County. After making the confession, Kent, 63, died on February 4, 2005.