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Judge Throws Confession Out in Slaying of Girl, 9

A sex offender was denied requests for a lawyer before admitting to raping and killing a child. Prosecutors say the case remains strong.

July 01, 2006|From the Associated Press

INVERNESS, Fla. — A convicted sex offender's confession in the kidnapping, rape and killing of 9-year-old Jessica Marie Lunsford can't be used in court, a judge ruled Friday. But prosecutors said they still had enough evidence to move forward with the case.

John Evander Couey, 47, confessed to detectives in March 2005 and told them where to find the girl's body buried in his yard. But he wasn't allowed to consult a lawyer, as he repeatedly requested. That violated his rights, so the confession and the recovery of the body shouldn't be admissible, his defense argued.

Circuit Judge Ric Howard threw out the confession to Citrus County sheriff's detectives because they didn't let him talk to a lawyer, which he called "a profound violation of one of the most bedrock principles of criminal law."

But he said investigators would have found her body without the confession, so he allowed it as evidence.

Howard also allowed testimony on two exchanges in which Couey seemed to admit guilt. One discussion was between two detectives and Couey while they pulled hair samples from Couey in October, and the other was with a Citrus County jail guard whom Couey summoned to his cell. A detective and the guard each said in depositions that Couey expressed remorse.

Guard Kenneth Slanker said Couey told him: "I didn't mean to kill her. I never saw myself as someone who could do something like this."

Prosecutor Ric Ridgway said investigators had earlier found a bloody mattress at the mobile home where Couey was living that tested positive for Jessica's DNA. Also, disturbed ground near a shovel in the yard was suspicious enough after officers had already singled Couey out as a person of interest, he said.

About a month after Jessica disappeared, her body was found with her hands tied with speaker wire and fingers poking through the garbage bags in which she was buried alive.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Couey, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of premeditated murder, burglary, kidnapping and sexual battery. Jury selection for his trial is expected to start July 10.

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