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Florida girl's killer receives death penalty

March 15, 2007|From the Associated Press

MIAMI — A jury decided Wednesday that a convicted sex offender should get the death penalty for the kidnapping, rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, who was buried alive near her home.

The jury, on a 10-2 vote, brushed aside pleas for mercy and a life sentence from defense lawyers, who said John Evander Couey, 48, was mentally retarded and suffered from chronic mental illness.

Jurors deliberated for about an hour.

The final decision on Couey's fate will be made in several weeks by Circuit Judge Richard Howard, who is not bound by the jury's recommendation but is required to give it "great weight."

The Lunsford family showed no emotion when the decision was read, nor did Couey.

Outside the courthouse, Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, tearfully thanked the jury.

"This is justice for Jessie, but not just Jessie," Lunsford said. "I'm sure there are other victims out there. If you crossed paths with Couey and he hurt you, this is justice for you."

Couey was convicted last week.

In his closing statement, prosecutor Ric Ridgway called the crime evil and asked jurors to remember how Jessica died by suffocating in a hole that Couey dug. She was wrapped in plastic garbage bags.

"If this is not the person who deserves the death penalty, who does?" Ridgway said.

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