Saturday, August 25, 2007

Jessica Lunsford's killer should die, judge says

Convicted sex offender John Couey buried the 3rd-grader alive. The case sparked calls for reform.

Mitch Stacy

The Associated Press

August 25, 2007


A convicted sex offender was sentenced to death Friday for kidnapping and raping 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford before swaddling her in garbage bags and burying her alive in his yard.

John Evander Couey, 49, looked straight ahead when Circuit Judge Ric Howard told him that he should be executed for the 2005 crimes that captured the nation's attention and led to new laws in many states cracking down on convicted sex offenders. Sheriff's officials quickly led a handcuffed Couey out of the courtroom.

Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, sat in court for the sentencing, his eyes tearing while he listened to the judge read a detailed history of the case for nearly an hour. He hugged Jessica's other weeping relatives after the sentence was read.

Outside court, Lunsford had a message for Couey: "Skip all these appeals. Take your punishment. Stand up and be a man."

The jury that convicted Couey in March recommended by a 10-2 vote that he die for his crimes, but the final decision was left to Howard.

Couey's attorney had argued that he couldn't legally be executed because he is mentally retarded, but Howard brushed aside that claim in a strongly worded ruling earlier this month.

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. After 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.

Despite the confession being tossed, Couey incriminated himself other times.

Jail guards and investigators testified that he repeatedly admitted details of the slaying after his arrest, insisting that he hadn't meant to kill Jessica but panicked during an intense, nationally publicized police search.

Howard recounted the evidence in detail, including Couey wrapping her in two garbage bags, putting her alive into a hole then piling a foot of dirt on top of her.

"His actions crushed the very breath and life out of Jessica Marie Lunsford," the judge said.

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