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Juan Ignacio Blanco  

 

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John Evander COUEY

 
 


 

The Jessica Lunsford case

 

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 home.

 

 

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 questioning.

 

 

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 worst nightmare."

 

 

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 Couey's whereabouts.

 

 

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 Tavares, Florida.

 

 

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 Miami.

 

 

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.

 

 

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 trial.

 

 

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.

 

 

John Couey at death row

 

 

 
 
 
 
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