[Deathpenalty]death penalty news---FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Mar 19 18:16:28 CST 2005
Remains of Florida girl found
The news this small community feared finally came Saturday: Police had
found the body of 9-year-old Jessica Marie Lunsford, more than three weeks
after she was snatched from her bedroom.
Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy said Jessica's body was found during an
overnight search near a mobile home close to the house where she lived
with her father and grandparents. A registered sex offender confessed
Friday to the kidnapping and killing and told authorities where to look
for the missing girl.
Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, visited the search scene shortly after
"Everyone heard me say, time after time, that she would be home," he said,
his eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses. "She's home now."
Jessica's safe return had become a preoccupation in this rural town of
about 2,500 people, hundreds of whom had volunteered to scour the area in
search of her. Word of the body's discovery spread as the sun rose, and at
the end of her street well-wishers began building a makeshift memorial of
candles, flowers and teddy bears.
"The last three weeks it's been hard to sleep, hard to eat," said Kim
Bidlack, who taught the youth church class Jessica attended before
vanishing Feb. 23. "It's so hard to explain how this makes you feel. We're
so heartbroken over Jessie, but then you have so much bitterness to the
person who would do this."
John Evander Couey, 46, confessed to kidnapping and killing Jessica after
taking a lie-detector test Friday in Georgia, Dawsy said. Police said he
was arrested Thursday in Augusta, Ga., on a probation violation for
failing to notify officials that he was moving, a requirement for sex
At the time of the abduction, Couey was staying in a mobile home about 150
yards from Jessica's house with his half-sister and 3 others.
"We're en route to bring him back home," said Dawsy, who added that he
wants Couey to face the death penalty. "This guy is not a quality person,
by any means ... He's truly a piece of trash."
Couey, who has not yet been charged in Jessica's abduction or slaying, has
been under a suicide watch at the Richmond County Jail in Georgia,
sheriff's deputy Susan Herring said.
The four people living in the mobile home were also charged, three of them
with obstructing police for failing to notify authorities when Couey
allegedly told them he had committed a crime. The 4th, the sheriff said,
was picked up for questioning in the case but was charged only with
failure to pay child support in an unrelated matter.
Dawsy called the four "a bunch of druggies" and said he would urge
prosecutors not to allow them to plea-bargain for reduced sentences.
The 3 charged with obstructing police were Dorothy Dixon, 47, who is
Couey's half-sister; Madie Secord, 27; and Matthew Dittrich, 31. The man
charged with failure to pay child support is Gene Secord, 35.
The body was found near the trailer home, but Dawsy refused to give
details of where it was discovered or how Jessica was killed.
Mark Lunsford has said the family did not know Couey.
"He may have interacted with Jessica," Dawsy said. "But there is no
relationship between Couey and this family."
At a news conference late Friday from Ohio, the girl's mother, Angela
Bryant, repeatedly made the same vow: Couey, she said, "will pay."
"This man's hurt too many people," she said through tears. "He's hurt too
many children. And one of them is my daughter. He took her life from her
and she didn't deserve it. He will pay."
Jessica, a 3rd grader, was last seen when she went to bed after attending
church. She was discovered missing the next morning, with the door
unlocked and her stuffed animal gone. The clothes she had laid out for
school were still in place, and her shoes weren't missing.
Hundreds of police and volunteers, with help from bloodhounds and
helicopters, searched the area about 60 miles north of Tampa for days
following her disappearance. Jessica's family made emotional appeals on
national television for her safe return.
(source: Associated Press)
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