Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Couey not mentally retarded, eligible for the death penalty

The Associated Press

Defense attorneys for John Evander Couey, 48, argued that their client suffered life-long mental abuse and possessed a below normal IQ. A 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibits the execution of mentally retarded people.

Circuit Judge Ric Howard ruled the most credible intelligence exam rated Couey's IQ at 78, slightly above the 70 level generally considered retarded.

"The conclusion is inescapable and irrefutable that the defendant John Evander Couey, is not retarded by any legal or societal standard," Howard wrote in a 16-page ruling, according to the St. Petersburg Times. "The defendant stealthily entered the Lunsford family home and kidnapped Jessica. ... A person who is mentally retarded simply could not have planned such a sophisticated crime, and escape."

A telephone message could not be left for Couey's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Daniel Lewan by The Associated Press after hours Tuesday.

Couey spent much of his March trial in Miami drawing in coloring books. The jury brushed aside the defense's pleas for mercy, voting 10-2 to recommend that Couey be executed for Jessica's slaying. Florida law puts the final sentencing decision in the hands of a judge, who must give great weight to a jury recommendation. Sentencing has been scheduled for Aug. 24.

The jury convicted Couey of taking Jessica in February 2005 from her bedroom to his nearby trailer, where he raped her and buried her alive. Despite a massive search, the third-grader's body was found about three weeks after she disappeared in a grave in Couey's yard, about 150 yards from her own home.

Couey, already a convicted sex offender when he committed the crime, was arrested in Georgia and confessed to the killing. That confession was thrown out as evidence because Couey did not have a lawyer present.

The trial was moved to Miami because of intense media coverage in Citrus County.

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