On the morning of Feb. 24, 2005,
the grandmother of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford called police in
Citrus County, Fla., to report that her granddaughter had
disappeared from her room the night before, after she tucked her
into bed. Her bedroom was undisturbed except for a missing stuffed
animal that her father had won for her at the county fair.
Police immediately began
searching for Jessica, who dreamed of being an Olympic swimmer and a
fashion designer when she grew up, according to her grandmother,
Ruth Lunsford. Jessica lived with her father, Mark Lunsford, and his
parents, Ruth and Archie, in a mobile home near Homosassa, Fla.
The search for Jessica ended
nearly a month later, after convicted sex offender John Couey
confessed to abducting Jessica and told police where he had buried
her — in his sister's backyard, about 60 yards from the Lunsford
Registered sex offender John
Evander Couey was sought for questioning in Jessica Lunsford's
disappearance. He was initially taken to the Richmond County
Sheriff's Office after he was found near a Salvation Army shelter in
Augusta, Ga., and held for neglecting to notify Florida officials
that he was leaving the state.
During an FBI interview, Angela
Bryant (pictured), the mother of Jessica Lunsford, said her daughter
had not lived with her since she was a year old. Bryant, who has
remarried, is seen here outside her home in Morrow, Ohio on Feb. 25,
2005, holding a picture of her missing daughter.
After a news conference on Feb.
28, 2005, in Homosassa, Fla., Jessica Lunsford's grandmother, Ruth
Lunsford (right), was comforted by Citrus County Sheriff's Chaplain
Dave Maddox (left).
John Couey, who was living in his
sister's mobile home across from the Lunsfords, told police that he
kidnapped Jessica, hid her in his closet and later buried her alive.
A judge later threw out Couey's taped confession because
investigators ignored his requests to speak to an attorney during
Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford,
placed this sign in his front yard while the search for his daughter
continued. Lunsford described the day Jessica went missing as a "parent's
On March 1, 2005, six days after
Jessica Lunsford disappeared, a canine search-and-rescue team
searched for clues along U.S. 19 in Homosassa, Fla.
Dorothy Dixon, John Couey's half-sister,
was arrested on March 19, 2005, for allegedly lying to police about
Madie Secord, John Couey's niece,
was arrested in Homosassa, Fla., on March 19, 2005, for allegedly
lying to the police regarding the whereabouts of Couey, who is
accused of kidnapping, raping and killing Jessica Lunsford.
Visitors left candles, cards and
toys on a street corner near 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford's Florida
home as authorities and community members searched for her.
A Citrus County crime-scene
investigator dressed in protective clothing before searching the
area where the body of Jessica Lunsford was found.
At a news conference on March 19,
2005, Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy announced that the body of 9-year-old
Jessica Lunsford had been found.
A photo of the crime scene. Couey
later told investigators that he kidnapped Jessica Lunsford and
buried her alive.
John Couey, charged with Jessica
Lunsford's murder, rape and kidnapping, was taken to the Citrus
County Florida Detention Center on March 22, 2005, after being
transported from Georgia, where he was arrested on unrelated charges.
Couey pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, sexual
battery on a child, kidnapping and burglary.
Community members in Lecanto,
Florida exited the Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church on March 26,
2005, after attending a memorial service for Jessica Lunsford.
Gov. Jeb Bush signed the Jessica
Lunsford Act in Tallahassee, Florida, on May 2, 2005. The act
increased penalties for sexual crimes against children. The families
of Jessica Lunsford and Sarah Lunde attended the signing. Lunde is
also believed to have been killed at the hands of a sexual predator.
John Couey appeared at the Citrus
County Courthouse on May 11, 2005, in Inverness, Florida.
Wearing a necklace with a
photograph of his daughter, Mark Lunsford addressed the state senate
on June 7, 2005, during a hearing on Megan's Law. Lunsford spoke
about the murder of his daughter Jessica and urged lawmakers to
toughen the law.
Dan Lewan, John Couey's defense
attorney, addressed the court on July 6, 2006, during a pretrial
hearing at the Citrus County Courthouse in Inverness, Florida.
Prosecutor Ric Ridgway spoke to
Mark Lunsford, Jessica's father, on July 10, 2006, the first day of
jury selection for the trial of John Couey.
Using headphones, John Couey
listened to motions made to state circuit judge Ric Howard during
jury selection on July 11, 2006, at the Lake County Courthouse in
John Couey stared at prospective
jurors during the third day of jury selection on July 12, 2006, at
the Lake County Courthouse in Tavares, Florida. Jury selection was
abandoned there after three days when it became clear that too many
jurors had been exposed to media reports on the case. Couey later
faced trial in Miami.
John Couey listens during jury
selection on Feb. 12, 2007, in Miami.
Corrections officer Nathalia
Windham testified on Feb. 13, 2007, that Couey was isolated from the
rest of the jailhouse population, except for a single guard who was
with him at all times.
Corrections officer John Read
testified that John Couey had initiated at least two dozen
conversations with him on topics such as current events, religion
and, occasionally, the charges against him.
John Couey draws in a coloring
book with colored pencils during jury selection on Feb. 13, 2007, in
On Feb. 13, 2007, Dr. Robert
Berland, a witness for the defense, said Couey's IQ level was 64,
about 11 points below the medical standard for retardation. He
attributed his IQ to childhood brain damage and a proclivity for
sniffing glue and gas as a teen.
Lunsford family friend Sharon
Armstrong was the first witness to testify for the state in Couey's
trial, which began March 1, 2007. Armstrong, seen here demonstrating
in sign language the gesture for "I love you," sobbed on the stand
as she recalled how Jessica signed the phrase the last time she saw
her, when Armstrong brought the girl home from Bible class.
From the witness stand, Jessica's
grandmother, Ruth Lunsford, identified the print identification card
that Jessica made at the local Wal-Mart before she disappeared.
Dorothy Dixon, the defendant's
sister and trailer-mate when Jessica disappeared, testified that she
and her boyfriend shared a "small" rock of crack cocaine with Couey
the night he allegedly abducted Jessica. She also denied having any
knowledge that Jessica was ever in the trailer.
Couey's niece, Madie Secord,
testified that she purchased a bus ticket in her name to Savannah,
Ga., at her uncle's request after Jessica went missing. She was also
living with him in the trailer when Jessica disappeared, but denied
any knowledge of Jessica's whereabouts.
Forensic technologist Kristin
Lehman with the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement helped prosecutor
Peter Magrino display areas on Couey's mattress, where she
identified biological fluids, including those from both Couey and
Jessica's grandparents, Ruth and
Archie Lunsford, seen here on March 2, 2007, with a representative
from the court, attended Couey's entire five-day capital murder
Citrus County Det. Daniel Holder
participated in the excavation of Jessica's body from behind Couey's
Snowbird Court trailer. Holder identified several pieces of evidence
related to the discovery, including graphic autopsy pictures that
brought some jurors to tears.
Citrus County Det. Brian Spiddle
described the process of removing the layers of dirt from the burial
site without disturbing Jessica's body. Spiddle also testified that
he found a rake and a shovel near the site, which was located under
the stairs of the back porch of Couey's trailer.
Gene Secord, Couey's nephew-in-law
and one of four adults who lived with him on Snowbird Court, was in
jail with Couey in 2006 for an offense unrelated to Jessica's
disappearance. Secord testified that Couey allegedly told him that
Jessica's death was "in the past" and that if his sister had loved
him more, the murder would not have occurred.
During the trial, Couey often
appeared disinterested in the testimony, rarely looking up from his
doodlings at the defense table.
Citrus County Det. Gary Atchison
showed the jury a replica of the plush dolphin found buried with
Jessica. Atchison also testified that when he went to the jail to
obtain DNA samples from Couey in 2005, the defendant said he was
under the influence of crack-cocaine when he abducted Jessica and
that he would apologize to her in heaven.
On March 7, 2007, Couey appeared
emotionless as a clerk announced guilty verdicts on charges of first-degree
murder, kidnapping, sexual battery of a person under 12 and burglary.