Jessica Lunsford was last seen
alive on the afternoon of Feb. 23, 2005. Her grandparents picked her
up from the school bus stop in Homosassa, Fla. On the way home, they
stopped at a Sonic restaurant to buy curly fries for Jessica before
she went to Bible class. Family friend Sharon Armstrong brought her
home that evening, and she watched television until her grandmother
tucked her into bed at 9 p.m.
The next morning, Jessica was
missing. Her bedroom and the rest of the rooms in her grandparents'
trailer were undisturbed, except for a purple stuffed dolphin that
her father had won for her at the county fair four days earlier that
was also missing.
Jessica's clothes for school,
which she had laid out in her room the night before, were untouched.
Authorities launched a massive
investigation that included questioning of sex offenders in the area.
They could not account for John Couey, who had fled to Georgia. When
they located him, the mechanic allegedly confessed to abducting
Jessica and told investigators they would find her behind the
trailer he shared with relatives.
By the time Couey spoke to
investigators, his sister, Dorothy Dixon, had already granted
authorities permission to search the single-wide trailer where she
and Couey lived with her boyfriend, daughter and her daughter's
In the search, investigators
seized several items of evidence from Couey's room that revealed
trace evidence linking Jessica to the middle bedroom of the trailer.
The items proved invaluable to the prosecution's case against Couey,
especially after a judge suppressed Couey's confession, ruling that
police violated his Miranda rights.
On the afternoon of March 18,
2005, authorities began digging behind the trailer in search of
Jessica's body. The excavation continued into the morning of March
19, when authorities found her body buried in a garbage bag.
Prosecutors in Couey's capital
murder trial introduced the two black plastic garbage bags into
evidence. Jessica's right index and middle fingers were poking out
of the bags, which were knotted at her feet and her head.
Jurors in Couey's trial also
viewed the purple stuffed dolphin that Jessica was clutching when
she was removed from the bag. Prosecutors did not remove the dolphin
from the bag because of its condition.
The jury also saw the stereo
speaker wire that was used to bind Jessica's wrists. A fiber analyst
testified that the ligatures matched wires that ran from inside
Couey's room to a makeshift antenna on his roof.
A DNA analyst with the Florida
Dept. of Law Enforcement testified that she matched Jessica's DNA
profile to two smears of blood found on Couey's mattress, along with
another stain, which was a mixture of Couey's semen and her DNA.
DNA analyst Roshale Gaytmenn also
testified that she found the DNA profiles of Jessica and Couey on
pillows that investigators seized from Couey's room.
Investigators used this
fingerprint identification card to match Jessica's prints to items
of evidence seized from Couey's room.
The property line of the Lunsford
home was located just 60 yards from the property line of the
Snowbird Court trailer where Couey lived with his relatives.