FL DOC mugshot
|Born||John Evander Couey
September 19, 1958
Florida, United States
|Died||September 30, 2009
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
|Criminal penalty||Death sentence|
|Criminal status||Deceased (prior to execution date)|
|Conviction(s)||First degree murder, burglary with assault or battery upon any person, kidnapping, sexual battery on a child less than 12 years old|
John Evander Couey (September 19, 1958 – September 30, 2009) was an American sex offender convicted of kidnapping, sexually battering, 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 the U.S. 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 from cancer before his sentence could be carried out.
Past charges and convictions
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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 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 was later thrown out by his Florida trial court (see below), he admitted to sexually battering Lunsford in his bedroom. The admission stated she was kept in his bed that evening, where he raped her again in the morning. It further stated 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 Snowbird Court, under the front porch and buried in a hole approximately 2½ 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.
On March 7, 2007, Couey was found guilty of all charges in relation to Lunsford's death, including first degree murder, kidnapping, burglary with assault or battery upon any person, and capital 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 rated Couey's IQ at 78, 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.
- Bruno, Anthony. Jessica Lunsford: Death of a 9 year old", CourtTV CrimeLibrary
- Partial transcript of Video Confession of Couey, CNN.com
- Nesmith, Susannah A. "Wanted: Fair Jury...", pages 1A, 19A, The Miami Herald, 2007-02-11.
- "Judge: John Evander Couey Not Retarded". Crime.about.com. Retrieved 2010-10-12.
- "Couey sentenced to die for Florida girl's murder", CNN.com, 14 March 2007
- "Couey, John E." Florida Department of Corrections. Retrieved on January 5, 2010.
- "Jessica Lunsford's killer, John Couey, dies of cancer". .tbo.com. 2009-09-30. Retrieved 2010-10-12.
- Court TV portal site with information detailing the trial of John Couey (WEB Archive Dec 10, 2008)
- CNN article "Search under way for girl's body"
- Tampa Tribune portal site with information concerning the Couey Trial including the history, trial, timeline, photo gallery from TBO.com (WEB Archive Sep 18, 2007)
- CNN article "Child Killer Sentenced to Death"