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Rapist, murderer sentenced to die


Mark Lunsford, the father of murdered third-grader Jessica Lunsford, listens as John Couey is sentenced to death. Associated Press
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Mark Lunsford, the father of murdered third-grader Jessica Lunsford, listens as John Couey is sentenced to death. Associated Press (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Mitch Stacy Associated Press

INVERNESS, Fla. – A convicted sex offender was sentenced Friday to death for kidnapping 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, raping her and burying her alive in his yard.

John Evander Couey looked straight ahead as Circuit Judge Ric Howard told him he should be executed for the 2005 crimes that led to new laws in many states cracking down on convicted sex offenders.

The girl’s father, Mark Lunsford, teared up as he listened to the judge read a detailed history of the case for nearly an hour.

Outside court, Lunsford had a message for Couey: “Skip all these appeals. Take your punishment. Stand up and be a man.”

The jury that convicted Couey in March recommended 10-2 that he die for his crimes, but the decision was left to Howard.

The jury convicted Couey, 49, of taking the girl in February 2005 from her bedroom to his nearby trailer, sparking a massive search. The third-grader’s body was found about three weeks after she disappeared in a grave in Couey’s yard, about 150 yards from her own home.

Couey, already a convicted sex offender when he committed the crime, was arrested in Georgia and confessed to the killing. That confession was thrown out as evidence because Couey did not have a lawyer present.

Despite the confession being tossed, Couey incriminated himself other times. Jail guards and investigators testified that he repeatedly admitted details of the slaying after his arrest, insisting that he hadn’t meant to kill the third-grader but panicked during an intense, nationally publicized police search.

Howard recounted the evidence in detail, including Couey wrapping her in two garbage bags, putting her alive into a hole then piling a foot of dirt on top of her.

“Jessica futilely poked two fingers out of the inner bag indicating that she was trying to dig her way out of what would become her grave,” Howard said. “Her last thoughts … cannot be fathomed.”

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