Update 3/8/07 9:47PM
The sex offender convicted of kidnapping, raping and then killing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford by burying her alive behind his trailer could now face the death penalty.
Jurors deliberated for about four hours Wednesday before finding John Evander Couey guilty. They’ll return Tuesday to consider whether he should face life in prison or death.
“With capital cases, I’m all for the death penalty. It’s an eye for an eye,” the girl’s father, Mark Lunsford, said Thursday on CBS’ “The Early Show.”
After two long years the trial against child killer John Couey got underway yesterday. John Couey is charged with the abduction, rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford.
Little Jessie was abducted by John Couey from her home in Homosassa, Florida on February 23, 2005. After searching for Jessica for three weeks, John Couey was arrested in Savannah, Georgia on previous drug charges and was later charged with the terrible crimes against this child.
Couey lived about 100 yards from Jessica in a mobile home.Purportedly, after keeping Jessica in his trailer that he shared with his niece and sister for three days. (Supposedly they knew nothing of Jessica’s existence in the mobile home for those three days, yet bought Couey a bus ticket out of Florida when they felt the continuous presence of Law Enforcement). According to medical examiner reports, Couey buried little Jessie while still alive in a grave he dug behind his trailer.
Since Jessica’s death, her father – Mark Lunsford has become a renowned figure and advocate for children’s rights and fought and succeeded to get the Jessica Lunsford act passed which requires tighter restrictions on sex offenders (such as wearing electronic tracking devices) and increases prison sentences for some convicted sex offenders.
Also, Jessica’s Law was passed in Florida and has set precedence for other states in which among the key provisions of the law are a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison and lifetime electronic monitoring of adults convicted of lewd or lascivious acts against a victim less than twelve years of age. In Florida, sexual battery or rape of a child less than twelve years of age is a capital felony, punishable only by death or life imprisonment with no chance of parole.
Today was the second day of trial in this case and Mark Lunsford sat tall and proud and had to hear testimony that made jurors cry.
John Couey has been allowed to sit in court and color like a child, as according to his attorneys, he has been deemed retarded. I believe this is a ridiculous ploy to gain sympathy with the jury and promote the fact that this “poor man” was not responsible for his actions. Its pure BUNK and I believe the jury will see straight through this ploy.
By Emanuella Grinberg
MIAMI — Disturbing crime scene and autopsy photographs of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford brought several jurors to tears Friday in the murder trial of the convicted sex offender accused of killing the girl and burying her in his backyard.Citrus County Det. Daniel Holder testified that, during a five-hour excavation, a team of investigators discovered one black garbage bag wrapped around another behind the trailer where John Couey lived.
“When those two bags were removed, what was inside?” Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino asked the witness before an eerily quiet gallery in a Miami courtroom.
“The victim was discovered inside,” Holder said.
The images, along with video of the property and a bloody mattress from Couey’s room, provided the panel with its first window into the physical details of the murder.
Couey, 48, faces the death penalty if convicted of abducting, raping and murdering the third-grader, who was known to her family as Jessie.
A photograph of the bag in the hole provoked stifled tears from two female jurors, who reached for tissues after Magrino held up the picture. Another female juror brought her hand to her mouth as she viewed a picture of the girls’ bloated fingers poking through the plastic bags.
The jury also viewed an image of Jessica’s swollen, dirty hands, which were bound together at the wrists with speaker wire.
“Do you know if her body movement was restrained in any way?” Magrino asked, while Couey sat doodling in a notepad at the defense table.
“There was a stuffed purple dolphin that was in her arms,” Holder said, referring to the oversized plush toy that her father had won for her at the county fair three days before she disappeared.
Mark Lunsford, Jessica’s father, turned away as Magrino produced the dolphin for jurors to view.
The images from the excavation, which began March 18, 2005, and continued into the next day, were accompanied by a video of the property where Jessica was buried in a grave 4 feet deep.
Det. Brian Spiddle testified that he found a rake and a shovel near the grave, which was located next to the back porch of the home Couey shared with his sister and niece and their significant others.
Because of a previous court ruling, the panel did not learn that Couey told investigators where to find Jessica, who was abducted from her bed the night of Feb. 23, 2005. Before the trial, Judge Richard Howard granted a defense motion to suppress Couey’s alleged confession to kidnapping Jessica and burying her about 150 yards from home.
Lawyers for Couey claim he is mentally retarded and suggested in opening statements that he acted under duress when he buried the girl behind the trailer in Homosassa, Fla.
While the jury will not learn that Couey allegedly confessed to keeping Jessica in his room for several days, a detective testified Friday that he found her fingerprints in his bedroom closet, which was less than 2 feet deep and 4 feet wide.
Prosecutors brought in sections of the wall so that Det. Martin Cannaday could point out where he found Jessica’s palm- and fingerprints in the closet.
In another life-sized display of evidence, prosecutors introduced a bloodstained mattress that authorities seized from Couey’s bedroom.
In his opening statement Thursday, Assistant State Attorney Richard Ridgway told the jury that the stains were a mixture of Couey’s semen and Jessica’s blood.
The light-yellow mattress showed several smears. A DNA analyst is expected to testify later in the trial to identify the sources of the stains. The mattress was admitted into evidence against objections from Couey’s lawyers, who fought to prevent the panel from seeing the objects related to Jessica’s death.
Howard also let the panel see two garbage bags that were wrapped around each other and tied in knots at opposing ends.
The typically fidgety defendant appeared more attentive than usual during Friday’s testimony, often looking up from his doodling to squint at the evidence or consult with his attorneys.