John Evander Couey, a 49 year old registered sex offender, has admitted kidnapping 9 year old Jessica Marie Lunsford from her bedroom February 23, 2005, and killing her.  He confessed to investigators after taking a lie-detector test.  Jessica's body was found March 19 during an overnight search in a densely wooded area, only about 150 yards from her home.  Couey left Florida on or about March 4 after telling relatives that police would be looking for him.  He was arrested in Augusta, Georgia on March 17 on a probation violation for failing to notify officials that he was moving, a requirement for sex offenders.  

Jessica was last seen when she went to bed February 23 in the home where she lived with her father and grandparents.  They discovered her missing the next morning.  Couey's extensive criminal record includes arrests for burglary, carrying a concealed weapon and indecent exposure.  He was arrested in 1991 on a charge of fondling a child under the age of 16.  He was accused of grabbing a girl in her bedroom, placing his hand over her mouth and kissing her during a house burglary in 1978.  He was sentenced to 10 years in prison but was paroled in l980.

Couey entered Jessica's house through an unlocked door, snatched her from her bed and later sexually assaulted her.  Medical examiners confirmed the sexual assault by examining her body but because Couey was under the influence of drugs, detectives might never know how long she was held before she was slain.  

Couey was formally charged on March 21 with capital murder and other crimes in Jessica's abduction.  He is also charged with burglary, kidnapping and sexual battery on a child under the age of 12.  

According to court documents released in June, Couey said Jessica was alive inside his home when authorities came to investigate her disappearance.  He fed her for three days in a closet in a Homosassa, Florida, mobile home where he was staying before burying her alive.  A medical examiner determined she died of asphyxiation.  He previously told authorities he kept her alive for one day.

A jury decided on March 14, 2007, that Couey should get the death penalty.  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.

Couey was sentenced on August 24 to death.  

(Inverness, Florida)