The family and their defenders want a solution to the legal vacuum after the death of Audrii Cunningham

Austin, Texas –

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As mourners prepare for the funeral of 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham, who was murdered near Houston, the community wants answers about how the suspect in her death was allowed to remain at large despite a long criminal history of violence.

Nearly two decades before Don McDougal was charged with capital murder for Audrii’s slaying, he was accused of indecency with a girl for getting into the bed of another Texas girl and attempting to undress her. That previous case was based on a misdemeanor charge of luring a minor, which allowed him to remain off the state sex offender registry, according to Brazoria County documents.

Last year, in the county where Audrii’s family lives, McDougal was accused of stabbing a man, but authorities said they did not have enough evidence at the time to arrest him on an aggravated assault charge.

Now, her family and victims’ advocates are asking lawmakers to close the loophole that allowed McDougal to stay off the sex offender registry and challenge what they see as the criminal justice system’s failure to keep Audrii safe.

Wayne Davis, the father of the boy McDougal pleaded guilty to seducing in 2008, said the legal system “failed my daughter 100% and it failed Audrii and who knows how many other children.”

“The system is not built to protect our children,” Davis said.

McDougal, 42, a family friend, was supposed to be taking Audrii to the school bus stop when he disappeared on Feb. 15. Her body was found in a river this week and her funeral is scheduled for Saturday.

In a statement sent earlier this week to KPRC-TV in Houston, Audrii’s father and grandmother said “the system failed us” because, despite McDougal’s history of attacking girls, he was not listed in the registry. sex offenders when they checked before allowing him to stay in a caravan on their property in Livingston.

“If we had been aware of what we know now, this man would never have set foot on our property, much less been a part of our little girl’s life,” the statement said.

Chad Etheridge, who has been appointed to represent McDougal, did not respond to messages left by phone or email.

Since learning about the loophole, Andy Kahan, director of victim services and advocacy for Crime Stoppers of Houston, has begun a campaign to change the state law.

Kahan, whose nonprofit aims to solve and prevent crime in the area, said he is in talks with lawmakers to add seducing a child, when the crime involves a sexual element, to the list of required crimes. register on the state sex offender registry. The measure, which would be named after Audrii, received support from lawmakers from the beginning, he said.

“We’re naming another law after another dead child,” Kahan said. “Thats the reality”.

State Rep. Trent Ashby, a Republican who represents Livingston, said in a statement that he is committed to making the change during the next state legislative session in 2025.

“I am deeply troubled by the idea that a loophole could have allowed a monster to carry out such a wicked and senseless act of violence,” said Ashby, who is seeking re-election this year.

Mary Sue Molnar, executive director of Texas Voices for Reasons and Justice, a nonprofit that supports people required to register as sex offenders and their families, said she hopes the scope of any proposed law will remain limited and not group everyone into the same category. .

Molnar said he sees McDougal as an isolated case and has “no idea how he escaped prosecution” and wonders how effective a new law will be if prosecutors continue to allow plea deals for lesser crimes.

The biggest question Molnar has in this case is why McDougal wasn’t arrested when he was first identified by a stabbing victim last year.

The attorney representing David Stanley, the person stabbed outside his Polk County home last fall, said he’s not sure what changed after his client called police to identify McDougal as a suspect in September.

David Feldman said his client was stabbed after going to help a woman who claimed she and a man she was traveling with, later identified as McDougal, were having car trouble.

In a November audio recording obtained by The Associated Press, Stanley’s girlfriend confronts Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons about why McDougal has not been arrested despite being identified by the victim and matching the description. .

“We were wrong and we are trying to get the answers to what happened,” Lyons responds to the woman in the recording.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment to the AP about the recording, adding that it would not comment on any of McDougal’s charges until the cases were tried.

Although Stanley originally misidentified the suspect in his stabbing, he later corrected his statement. Feldman said police did not arrest McDougal at the time, but he did so earlier this month after Stanley called police when he identified McDougal’s photo while watching coverage of Audrii’s disappearance.

“That’s the big question: why is he supposedly believed for the first time on February 16 and not before?” Feldman said.

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