Child killer sentenced to death

Jessica Lunsford
Jessica Lunsford
John Evander Couey
John Evander Couey

John Evander Couey was sentenced Friday to death for abducting, raping and killing a 9-year-old Florida girl by burying her alive in 2005.

"We need to send a message that Florida will not tolerate these kind of crimes," the girl's father, Mark Lunsford, said after the sentencing, wiping tears from his eyes.

Judge Ric Howard pronounced the sentence as Couey, 48, stood in shackles and an orange jail jumpsuit in an Inverness, Florida, courtroom.

"[Couey] caused a slow, suffering, conscious death," the judge said as he described the murder of Jessica Lunsford in chilling detail. "Jessica was placed in not one, but two plastic trash bags. She was conscious at the time of her entombment," the judge said.

He described how the girl poked two fingers through the bags to try to escape before she died. "Simply stated, civilized society recoils in horror at the image of the abject fear and terror that Jessica experienced in her final, conscious minutes of life," the judge said.

In March, a jury deliberated for about an hour before recommending 10-2 that Couey, a previously convicted sex offender with a 30-year criminal history, receive the death penalty. In a recorded jailhouse phone call this month with a woman Florida corrections officials said is his aunt, Couey said he expected to be sentenced to death for killing Jessica in 2005.

"We all know what he's going to do," Couey said of the judge during the call, an excerpt of which CNN obtained. He told the woman, "I kick myself in the butt a hundred times a day. Stupidity ... Just trying to figure out, I'm just asking myself, why was you so stupid?"

"Well, none of us are perfect, and the drugs didn't help any," the woman said.

"No, that was a big problem," Couey said. "Drugs, alcohol."

The St. Petersburg Times reported that during the hourlong conversation, Couey also told the woman he wanted to be cremated after his execution. But he said, "There's a lot of good that came out of this, too. A lot of laws changed."

Jessica was snatched from her bed in her family's Homosassa, Florida, home. Her body was found three weeks later, buried at the home of Couey's half-sister, within sight of Jessica's home.

Couey was convicted in March of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery on a child under 12.

Jessica's slaying sparked national outrage and led to stricter Florida laws regarding registration and supervision of released sexual predators, following a push led largely by Mark Lunsford.

Lunsford has said a federal law tightening sex offender registration and other matters related to sexual abuse of children did not go far enough. "We need bills that will produce money for these other bills that we have already passed, so U.S. marshals, FBI, local law enforcement, prosecutors can get the tools that they need to get more prosecutions and put these guys away longer, so we are not doing murder trials," Lunsford told CNN's "Larry King Live" earlier this year.

Jessica was discovered missing from her home, where she lived with her father and grandparents, on February 24, 2005.

Couey later confessed to abducting her from her bedroom the previous night. However, a judge threw out Couey's confession, saying it was inadmissible in court because he asked for a lawyer and was not provided one. His trial was moved to Miami after a judge ruled it would be impossible to find an impartial jury in Citrus County.

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