INVERNESS, Fla. —
A hearing is underway to determine whether child killer John Evander Couey, who was convicted in March of the kidnapping, rape and murder of young Jessica Lunsford, can be sentenced to death.
The Miami jury that convicted Couey of the Febraury, 2005 kidnapping, rape and burying alive of the nine-year-old Lunsford also recommended the death penalty. At the hearing Tuesday before Judge Richard A. Howard in Citrus County, Couey's attorney is arguing that it would be illegal to execute Couey because he is mentally retarded, and asking that Couey instead be sentenced to life in prison.
The judge is not bound by the jury's death penalty recommendation, but is required to give it "great weight."
Couey has a longstanding criminal record and was designated a sex offender in 1991. Jessica Lunsford's death led to tougher laws for tracking sex offenders and punishing repeat offenders nationwide. According to the Jessica Marie Lunsford Foundation web site, 30 states have adopted some form of Jessica's Law.