Couey sentenced to die for Florida girl's murder
POSTED: 6:07 p.m. EDT, March 14, 2007
MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Jurors on Wednesday recommended the death penalty for John Evander Couey, who was found guilty last week of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford.
The majority of the jury -- 10 in favor of death, 2 against it -- rendered the decision about 5:30 p.m. ET.
As the sentence was read, Couey, 48, sat in the courtroom, fiddled with his tie, and interlaced his fingers.
Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, stared ahead while the sentence was read aloud. His face was stoic. Later, he hugged supporters and cried.
Jessica Marie Lunsford was abducted from her ****sassa Springs, Florida, home February 23, 2005. Her body was found nearly a month later, buried within sight of her own home and behind the house where Couey was staying with a relative.
She was found wrapped in garbage bags, holding a stuffed toy dolphin, her hands bound with stereo wire.
Investigators said Couey abducted Lunsford from her bedroom. Jessica died from asphyxiation after being sexually assaulted, according to a medical examiner's report.
Police arrested Couey in Georgia in March 2005 during the search for Jessica.
His confession helped lead investigators to the girl's body, but a judge ruled the confession was inadmissible in court because he had asked for a lawyer the day before he told police he committed the crime.
Evidence at the trial included Jessica's fingerprints in a closet in Couey's trailer and DNA from Jessica's blood and Couey's semen on a mattress in his bedroom.
Jessica's father appeared on CNN's "Larry King Live" recently and was asked if he hated Couey.
"Yeah, definitely. Most definitely," Lunsford said. "But that's what fuels me ... that's where I get my energy to do what I do. It's the anger."
Lunsford has led a push for stricter sex offender laws since his daughter's 2005 death.
Gov. Jeb Bush signed the Jessica Lunsford Act into Florida law. The legislation calls for prison sentences of 25 years to life for sex offenses against children under age 12, better registration of convicted sex offenders and a Global Positioning System notification mechanism to track down probation violators.
Lunsford read a statement outside the courthouse the day the verdict was handed down, asking that his daughter's death serve as a wake-up call to legislators across the country.
"We have gone through hell and come out the other side with a mission: Before the next family loses a child to America's failed system, we're going to hold lawmakers accountable for allowing this open season on our children," he said.
"We are coming to Washington. We are bringing with us a dedicated plan for a federally funded, federally strategized and nationally waged war on child predators. We will force them to listen."