March 22, 2005
LECANTO, Fla. - The man accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing 9-year-old Jessica Marie Lunsford was denied bail Tuesday on murder and other charges, beginning a legal process that the girl's father wants to see end with a death sentence.
John Evander Couey, 46, a convicted sex offender who sheriff's officers say confessed to taking Jessica from her home and killing her, had his first court appearance on charges of capital murder, battery, kidnapping and sexual battery on a child under the age of 12.
"This is an infamous case here," Citrus County Judge Mark Yerman told Couey during the brief hearing. "The acts you are accused of and the crimes you confessed to are really beyond words."
The shackled defendant, looking tired and downtrodden, answered a few questions, telling the judge he needed an attorney and had no assets.
Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy said he will urge prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
"I just want him to die," Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, said Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live."
Couey was arrested last week in Georgia and brought back to Florida and booked Sunday on charges of violating probation and failing to register his change of address as required as a sex offender. The additional charges were filed Monday.
Jessica, a third grader, was last seen the night of Feb. 23 when she went to bed after attending church. Her body was found early Saturday behind a house about 150 yards from her home, more than three weeks after she disappeared from her bedroom.
Medical examiners said she was sexually assaulted and died of asphyxiation. Detectives might never know how long Jessica was held before she was killed since Couey was under the influence of drugs, officials said.
Lunsford said he felt guilty that he was not at home that night. "We have to save our children from people like this," Lunsford said. "It's time to change some of our laws."
Lunsford said he will campaign to get stricter penalties and laws regarding registering sex offenders.
"They should be tagged, they should be branded," Lunsford said of sex offenders.
Gov. Jeb Bush said earlier that he was wary about such proposals. "We should be cautious about doing something that would expand the net so wide as to not accomplish the desired effect and get into a problem," Bush said.