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Homosassa, Citrus County, Florida:
Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old, third-grader at Homosassa Elementary School was last seen alive by her family after attending church on Feb. 23, 2005, when kissed her grandmother goodnight and went to sleep in her bedroom, in the home where she lived with her father, Mark Lunsford, and grandparents, Archie and Ruth Lunsford. Jessica's mother, Angela Bryant, is divorced from Jessica's father and resides in Southern Ohio. She hadn't seen Jessica in several years.
She was discovered missing the next morning.
After spending the night with a friend, Mark came home, entering through a locked door, and was getting ready for work when he heard Jessica's alarm clock go off. When nobody shut it off he checked on her and discovered she was missing. He clothes for school that day were still neatly laid out.
Convicted sex offender John Evander Couey, 46, said he took cocaine around 1:00 AM then entered the Lunsford home through an unlocked door, went to Jessica's room, put his hand over her mouth and said, "You're going with me." Jessica took a stuffed purple dolphin from her room.
On Snowbird Court, 150 yards away from, and in view of the Lunsford home, Jessica climbed a ladder to enter Couey's bedroom. Couey said it is unlikely the other four people in the house knew she was there. Other occupants of the residence during this time include, Couey's half-sister Dorothy Dixon, 47, Dixon's boyfriend, Matthew Dittrich, Couey's niece Madie Secord, 28, and her teenage stepdaughter. Dorothy said Couey didn't leave the house for several days because he was afraid deputies knew he hadn't shown up for a probation meeting. She said her brother usually stayed inside his bedroom with the door closed.
"Then, I sexually assaulted her," he said. "I'm a sick person. It's hard for me to talk about. I mean, I was stupid. I was stupid for doing it."Couey left Florida on or about March 4, 2005, after telling relatives that the police would be looking for him. Couey arrested March 17 in Augusta, Georgia, gave differing stories regarding how long Jessica lived ranging from two to six days. He claims that he kept Jessica in a closet for three days feeding her eggs, grits, hamburgers, and water and that she was still alive in the closet when detectives visited his mobile home looking for her but didn't look inside. He was scared after investigators came to the house, so he went outside, dug a hole, and buried her alive. After an Couey was arrested an all night search for Jessica turned up her body.
"I buried her alive. It's stupid, but she suffered. She never fought me." "I don't have a mean bone in my body ... I didn't mean to kill this little girl."
Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino said there is no evidence that she was in the closet, alive, when deputies first visited. Police searched Couey's place on a later visit.Jessica's blood was found on Couey's mattress.Her body was found March 19, 2005, near the mobile home where Couey was staying.Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway said, " She was found in two garbage bags and her fingers were poking out."
The medical examiner's report confirms she died of suffocation, indicating she was buried but does not reveal a time of death, but it does state that her stomach and the majority of her small intestine were empty.
Couey's statements show he asked for a lawyer during a March 17, 2005, interview with detectives, but they continued to question him and asked him to take a polygraph test. According to the transcript the questioning continued for another 50 pages without Couey's lawyer present. Couey's lawyers may request to have his confession thrown out, but the prosecutor's office feels confident they have enough evidence for a conviction without the confession. He has pleaded not guilty.
Couey is charged with capital murder, burglary, kidnapping, and sexual battery on a child under the age of 12, and is being held without bail in the Citrus County, Florida Jail. The state is seeking the death penalty.
Couey's criminal record includes 24 burglary, carrying a concealed weapon, and fondling a child under age 16. He was accused of grabbing a girl in her bedroom, placing his hand over her mouth and kissing her during a house burglary in 1978. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison but was paroled in 1980.
April 19, 2005, the Florida House approved the Jessica Lunsford Act, legislation requiring longer prison sentences, lifetime probation and electronic monitoring for sex offenders convicted of crimes against children. The Act punishes molestation of children under 12 with a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life, "followed by probation or community control for the remainder of the person's natural life and subject to a system of active electronic monitoring." The bill also makes it a third-degree felony to harbor a sex offender. The legislation does not apply to the 30,000 sex offenders already registered in Florida.
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