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John Evander COUEY





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping - Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: February 24, 2005
Date of arrest: March 18, 2005
Date of birth: September 19, 1958
Victim profile: Jessica Lunsford, 9
Method of murder: Suffocation
Location: Homosassa, Citrus County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on August 27, 2007. Died in prison on September 30, 2009

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John Evander Couey (September 19, 1958 September 30, 2009) was an American sex offender convicted of kidnapping, raping, and murdering nine-year old Jessica Lunsford in February 2005, in Florida.

Lunsford's disappearance and Couey's subsequent confession and trial received extensive media coverage. Due to Couey's actions, Jessica's Law was enacted in Florida, and Congress created the Jessica Lunsford Act. A jury recommended that Couey receive the death penalty, and on August 24, 2007, he was sentenced to death. Couey died on September 30, 2009, of anal cancer before his sentence could be carried out.

Past charges and convictions

Couey had an extensive criminal record that included 24 arrests for burglary, carrying a concealed weapon without a permit, and indecent exposure. During a house burglary in 1978, Couey was accused of grabbing a girl in her bedroom, placing his hand over her mouth, and kissing her. Couey was sentenced to 10 years in prison but was paroled in 1980. In 1991, he was arrested in Kissimmee on a charge of fondling a five-year-old child. Because of more lenient laws at that time, Couey was released early.

Abduction, rape, and murder of Lunsford

On February 24, 2005, the family of Jessica Lunsford discovered that she was missing from the home she shared with her father and grandparents. Couey later was accused of entering her house through an unlocked door at about 3 a.m. He awoke her, told her "Don't yell or nothing" and told her to follow him out of the house.

In a videotaped and recorded deposition which later was thrown out by his Florida trial court (see below), he admitted to sexually assaulting Lunsford in his bedroom. The admission stated that she was kept in his bed that evening, where he raped her again in the morning.

It further stated that Couey put her in his closet and ordered her to remain there, which she did as he reported for work at "Billy's Truck Lot". Lastly, the admission recounted that three days after he abducted her, Couey bound the child's wrists together with speaker wire, placed her in a garbage bag, placed the bag containing her inside another garbage bag and buried her alive in a shallow grave, where she suffocated to death.

Because Couey had asked for an attorney before being interrogated but was not given one, his trial court threw out this statement as being obtained in violation of Couey's Sixth Amendment right to counsel and right to due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment.

On March 18, 2005, police found Lunsford's body at Couey's residence located on West Sparrow Court, under the front porch and buried in a hole approximately 2 ft deep by 2 ft in diameter (0.8 m deep by 0.6 m dia.), covered with leaves. The body was removed from the ground and transported to the coroner's office. Her body had undergone "moderate" to "severe" decomposition and, according to the publicly released autopsy reports, was skeletonized on two fingers that Lunsford had poked through the bags before suffocating to death. The coroner ruled that death would have happened even in best circumstances within three or five minutes from lack of oxygen.

Criminal proceedings

The trial was moved to Miami after officials were unable to seat an impartial jury in Citrus County where the trial was first scheduled to be held.

On March 7, 2007, Couey was found guilty of all charges in relation to Lunsford's death, including first degree murder, kidnapping, burglary, and sexual battery. The jury deliberated for four hours, tasked with recommending either life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty, the only two possible sentences available under Florida law.

A week later, after about one hour and 15 minutes of deliberation, a jury recommended Couey be put to death.

On August 11, 2007, a jury overseeing the Lunsford case voted 10-2 that Couey be eligible for the death sentence. Defense for Couey argued that he had suffered from a lifetime of emotional abuse and had a below normal IQ, which would enable him to avoid a death sentence under a 2002 Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the execution of mentally handicapped people. However, the most credible intelligence test rates Couey's IQ at 78, slightly above the standard accepted level of mental retardation, which is 70.


On August 24, 2007, Couey was sentenced by Circuit Judge Richard Howard to death, as well as three consecutive life terms for his crimes. In accordance with Florida State Law, the death sentence was automatically appealed. His Florida Department of Corrections number was 063425.


On September 30, 2009 at 11:15 a.m. EST, Couey died at Jacksonville Memorial Hospital after complications from anal cancer, before the sentence of the court could be carried out.



Sex offender convicted of murdering 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, could face death

March 13, 2007

MIAMI A jury took just four hours Wednesday to find a convicted sex offender guilty of first-degree murder for the death of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford.

The panel of six men and six women also convicted John Evander Couey of burglary, kidnapping and sexual battery for abducting Jessica from her bed and raping her before burying her in a shallow grave.

Couey, who often doodled at the defense table and appeared disinterested in testimony during his trial, listened as the verdict was read but did not visibly react.

The jurors will return to Miami-Dade Circuit Court next week to decide if Couey should be put to death for his crimes

Jessica's estranged parents, Mark Lunsford and Angela Wright, teared up silently as a clerk read the verdict before a packed courtroom.

Jessica disappeared on Feb. 24, 2005. Her body was found three weeks later in garbage bags behind the Homosassa trailer he shared with relatives. Her wrists were bound with speaker wire and she was clutching a stuffed dolphin.

Couey was fingerprinted and booked in open court immediately after Wednesday's verdict, which came less than two weeks shy of the two-year anniversary of Jessica's disappearance.

Outside the courthouse, Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, told reporters that the verdict did not signal closure for him.

"He ain't dead yet," said Lunsford, who did not miss a moment of graphic testimony in the five-day trial.

During the penalty phase next week, the jury will learn for the first time of Couey's history as a registered sex offender, which includes a 1991 conviction for exposing himself to a 5-year-old girl.

Prosecutors are expected to introduce the evidence as an aggravating factor for the jury to consider in weighing their decision.

Lawyers for Couey are expected to present mitigating evidence in support of their belief that he should not be executed. During the trial, his lawyers said that he was mentally retarded and suggested that his actions were influenced by his disability and substance abuse.

Most members of the jury chose to remain sequestered in a Miami-area hotel until they return Tuesday for the penalty hearing. During that time, Judge Richard Howard said their loved ones will be able to visit them and even stay overnight if they choose to.

"I'm being warned that I'm taking a risk, but I think you're worth the risk," Howard told the panel before dismissing them for the weekend.

The verdict came the same day that lawyers gave their closing arguments in Couey's capital murder trial.

Surrounded by a bloody mattress and pieces of a closet wall that authorities seized from Couey's room, Assistant State Attorney Peter Magrino reminded the panel that Jessica's blood and fingerprints were found in Couey's bedroom.

Magrino also urged the panel to consider Couey's statements to guards as he awaited trial in Citrus County jail in 2006. The panel heard from three jailers Tuesday, who testified that Couey said he did not mean to kill Jessica and that he would apologize to her when he met her in heaven.

"Knotting those bags, digging a hole in the ground, putting Jessie in the hole and then covering her up to die, that's not acting on an impulse, folks," Magrino told the panel in his closing argument Tuesday.

But defense lawyer Dan Lewan asked the panel to question how Couey could have abducted Jessica from her grandparents' home, hidden her in the closet for three days or buried her body without anyone knowing.

He also asked the jury to question why authorities did not examine Couey's room for fingerprints or DNA from the three other adults living in the single-wide trailer with him.

Outside the courthouse, state attorney Brad King addressed criticism of his office's failure to prosecute Couey's housemates for crimes related to the disappearance, including harboring a sex offender at an unregistered address.

"At the time this occurred, there was not a crime in the state of Florida they could be charged with," said King, adding that the laws had since been changed.

Since Jessica's death, Mark Lunsford has become an active lobbyist in the fight to reform sex offender legislation through the Jessica Marie Lunsford Foundation.

Outside the courthouse, he remarked that there was still much work to be done in Washington to push for tougher regulations for registered sex offenders.

"We're not going to let our children's deaths be in vain," he said, referring to the parents of Erin Runnion Jacob Wetterling, who, like Lunsford, are members of the Surviving Parents Coalition.

"Before the next family loses a child to America's failed system, we are going to hold lawmakers accountable for allowing this open season on our children," Lunsford said.


Jury recommends death for convicted killer of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford

March 15, 2007

MIAMI A jury recommended Wednesday that a convicted sex offender be executed for raping and killing his 9-year-old neighbor.

The panel took just an hour and 15 minutes to decide that John Evander Couey, 48, should die for his crimes, which were committed nearly two years ago in a small-town trailer community. The same jury convicted Couey last week of first-degree murder, kidnapping, sexual battery and burglary.

Jessica Lunsford disappeared from her Homosassa, Fla., bedroom the night of Feb. 23, 2005. Three weeks later, her body was found buried in two plastic garbage bags behind Couey's trailer. Her wrists were bound with speaker wire and she was clutching a stuffed dolphin.

Couey, who did not appear engaged in much of the trial proceedings, did not appear to react to the verdict, but fidgeted in his seat and fingered his tie.

As Couey hobbled out of the courtroom, his legs shackled, detectives with the Citrus County Sheriff's Office hugged Jessica's father and grandparents.

"This is justice for Jessie, but not just for her. I'm sure there are other victims out there," her father, Mark Lunsford, said later to reporters.

"If you crossed paths with Couey, and he hurt you, then this is justice for you," Lunsford added.

But the jury never learned of Couey's prior conviction exposing himself to an 11-year-old girl. Under Florida statute, felonies that are not violent crimes cannot be considered as aggravators for the death penalty.

The jury also did not hear about Couey's alleged confession to killing Jessica, which investigators obtained in violation of Couey's Miranda rights.

Even without the confession, juror Thais Prado said she was easily convinced of Couey's guilt by evidence of Jessica's prints and DNA in his room. In his police statement, Couey told investigators that he kept Jessica in his closet for three days before disposing of her body.

"Those pictures are still very alive in my mind," said Prado, who hugged Mark Lunsford outside the courthouse. "They will be hard to forget, if I ever do." Prado was one of several jurors who had tears in their eyes as they viewed autopsy photos of the girl's badly decomposed body.

The tech support consultant also cited the premeditated nature of the crime as a factor in favor of the death penalty.

The jury's decision, which is an advisory sentence, was 10-2 in favor of death. Circuit Judge Richard Howard will take it into consideration when issuing the sentence, following a hearing to determine if Couey is mentally retarded.

During the two-day penalty phase, Couey's defense attempted to convince the panel that his mental incapacity and childhood traumas merited mercy.

A defense psychologist blamed childhood brain damage, a dysfunctional upbringing and chronic substance abuse for what he diagnosed as Couey's mental illness and retardation.

Three relatives also testified that Couey's mother abandoned him and his sister when they were young and that he never seemed to mature beyond childhood.

Juror Marvin Gunn said that he sympathized with Couey's childhood plight, but was unconvinced that he suffered from mental illness.

"At the end of the day, it's no excuse," said Gunn.

In his closing argument Wednesday afternoon, Assistant State Attorney Richard Ridgway urged the panel not to consider Couey's childhood, but at the choices he made by abducting and killing Jessica.

"What we become in life is more dependent on the choices we make," Ridgway said. "The choices that John Couey made in his life and with the life of Jessica Lunsford outweigh everything that ever happened to him."

Ridgway also pointed to the horrific nature of the crime in asking jurors to recommend death.

"If this is not the case that calls for the death penalty, what case does?" Ridgway said, as he stood among the bloody mattress and the plastic bags that were introduced into evidence. "If you don't recommend it now, when will you?"


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