Sunday, July 22, 2007
John Evander Couey will not know for another month if he will face the death penalty or life in prison for the kidnapping, rape and murder of nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford. After a sentencing hearing, during which Mark Lunsford confronted the killer of his daughter for the first time, a Florida judge will now decide if Couey is mentally retarded or not.
Under Florida law, if Couey is found to have mental retardation he cannot be sentenced to die and would instead receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
In Florida an IQ score lower than 70 coupled with deficits in the ability to adapt to society before age 18 is considered mental retardation. At last week's hearing, clinical psychologist Greg Prichard testified that Couey's IQ was 78 and that he demonstrated a high level of functioning.
"His functioning, in terms of adaptive skills and intellectual capacity, is much too high for him to be considered mentally retarded," said Prichard, who evaluated Couey in April. "My opinion is that he is not mentally retarded."
Prichard said Couey's ability to keep a job at Wal-Mart for more than a year, manage his own finances and supervise day laborers on a construction site were examples of skills that proved Couey was not retarded.
Judge Richard Howard set August 10 as the tentative date he will announce his decision.
Mark Lunsford Confronts Couey
The sentencing hearing was the first time that Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, was able to confront Couey. Lunsford has campaigned throughout the United States to help pass laws that increase penalties for convicted sex offenders.
"I hope you hear her cries as you try to sleep at night," Mark Lunsford told Couey in the hearing. "I hope you saw the tears run down her face as she begged to go home. I hope you spend the rest of your life in fear of death. You will never hurt another child again."
After the hearing, Lunsford spoke to reporters to promote the death penalty for pedophiles.
"It's easy to find justice for murder victims with a death sentence, but what about the children who survive attacks from pedophiles?" Lunsford said. "We have to keep fighting to make sure that whenever someone harms a child, they pay the ultimate price so they don't have the chance to hurt another one."