Suspect in death of 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham charged with capital murder

Authorities have charged the man suspected of killing 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham with capital murder after officials found the child’s body in the Trinity River on Tuesday.

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Records from Polk County Jail show the charge filed against Don Steven McDougal, 42, who was earlier jailed on an unrelated charge of aggravated assault.

Authorities began searching for Audrii last week after she failed to get on a bus to school. She was last seen near her home around 7 a.m. on Feb. 15. On Tuesday, Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons confirmed that officials had found her body in the Trinity River near U.S. Highway 59.

McDougal denied bond

Update 2:55 p.m. EST Feb. 21: A judge on Wednesday declined to grant bond for McDougal, ordering that he be held until he faces his trial in Audrii’s death.

Court records obtained by KPRC shed more light on the evidence tying McDougal to the killing. Investigators said McDougal and Audrii left her home on the morning she disappeared with McDougal planning to drop her off at a school bus stop. However, she never showed up at the stop.

Investigators determined that McDougal lied several times about his whereabouts and actions on Feb. 15, court records show.

Audrii’s body was found in the Trinity River on Tuesday. It had a large rock tied around it with rope that was consistent with the kind authorities found inside McDougal’s vehicle during a traffic stop two days earlier.

Authorities continue to investigate.

Original report: Lyons said authorities continued Tuesday to process “mounds and mounds of information” gathered in the case, including videos shared by the community, cellphone analysis and information gleaned from interviews.

“The information that we have gathered in this criminal investigation is substantial,” he said.

It remained unclear Wednesday how Audrii died. Lyons said her body had been taken to the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office to determine her cause and manner of death. Polk County District Attorney Shelly Sitton said that authorities will review the autopsy before considering whether to seek the death penalty against McDougal.

“Until we get all the evidence and all the autopsy reports, we’re going to have to hold and work with law enforcement to determine what is the best solution to this case,” Sitton said. “If the evidence supports, that is something that we’re going to look in to.”

McDougal was a friend of Audrii’s father and admitted to leaving the house with the 11-year-old on the day of her disappearance, KTRK reported. He would not tell investigators more, according to the news station.

Lyons said that McDougal would sometimes take Audrii to the bus stop or to school if she missed the bus. He lived in a camper behind the home where Audrii lived with her father, grandparents and other family, said Lt. Craig Cummings, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

In 2008, McDougal pleaded guilty to a charge of enticing a child and was sentenced to two years in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, KPRC reported. Citing a grand jury indictment from the year before, the news station reported that McDougal got into bed with the victim and pulled down her clothes.

Cummings said McDougal was not required to register as a sex offender.