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Sheriff: Evidence points to sex abuse

Jessica Lunsford's father tells suspect: 'I hope you rot in hell'

John Evander Couey appears in court Sunday. He confessed to killing Jessica Lunsford, police say.
NewsNight with Aaron Brown (10 p.m. ET Monday): Following the abduction and death of a Florida girl, we'll examine what parents and law enforcement can do to protect our children.
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John Evander Couey appears in a Florida courtroom.

Mark Lunsford reacts to new details in the death of his daughter.

Jessica Lunsford's relatives mourn after her remains are found.
  • Born September 19, 1958
  • 5 feet 4 inches, 125 pounds
  • Blue eyes, gray hair

    Criminal history:
  • Outstanding warrant for violation of probation charge stemming from a 2004 arrest for possession of marijuana under 20 grams and possession of drug paraphernalia.
  • Arrested multiple times on various charges, including burglary, carrying a concealed weapon, disorderly intoxication, driving under the influence, indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, fraud, insufficient funds and larceny.
  • Arrested in 1991 on charges of a sex offense, fondling a child under the age of 16.
  • Registered sexual offender in Citrus County.
  • Has absconded more than once.
  • Driver's license suspended for 99 years.

    Source: Citrus County Sheriff's Office
    Jessica Lunsford

    HOMOSASSA, Florida (CNN) -- Jessica Marie Lunsford, the 9-year-old Florida girl whose body was found Saturday near her parents' home, was kidnapped from her bedroom, and there is evidence from a medical examiner that she was sexually assaulted, the Citrus County sheriff said Sunday night.

    The girl's body was taken to Leesburg, Florida, for autopsy, authorities said.

    "There was no forced entry. The residence was unsecured," Sheriff Jeff Dawsy said of the home where Jessica lived with her grandparents and father.

    The girl, who was discovered missing by her father February 24, may have been held captive for more than a day, possibly two, investigators said.

    "We don't really have a timeline," Dawsy said.

    Because the suspect -- a convicted sex offender -- was "drug-hazed," the sequence of events is murky, the sheriff said.

    The suspect, John Evander Couey, made his first court appearance in Citrus County Sunday morning, telling a magistrate judge that he understood his rights and the charges he faces.

    Judge Stephen Spivey set bond at $905 on a probation violation charge, but said there would be no bond on a second charge of failure to comply with sex-offender registration requirements.

    Couey, who has a long criminal history, allegedly confessed to abducting and killing Jessica and burying her in the yard of his half-sister's house, not far from the Lunsford's home. Couey has not been charged in that case.

    Dawsy said charges would be filed "shortly."

    "My main focus now is to get this man convicted of a capital crime."

    According to the sheriff and other sources, the suspect entered the house on the night of February 23, made his way to her bedroom, put his hand over her mouth, told her to be quiet, and forced her to leave.

    Her body was found at 4 a.m. Saturday buried behind Couey's half-sister's home, which is within sight of the Lunsford home, where a command center was set up to coordinate the search for her.

    Investigators were awaiting the return of test results from evidence collected in the home where Couey was staying, and the girl's family has been made aware of additional details surrounding her death.

    The girl's father, Mark Lunsford, told CNN he welcomed hearing the details.

    "Actually, it was a relief, because I don't have to wonder," said Lunsford, who said he is spearheading an effort to change the law so that such crimes do not recur. "There should be a law for Jesse."

    Then, facing the camera, the father addressed the suspect: "I hope you rot in hell, and I hope you get the death penalty, and I hope you can find it somewhere in you to be a man and stand up and take your punishment."

    Couey, a small man dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit with shackled legs and hands shackled to his waist, shuffled into the courtroom, his head bowed.

    Looking older than his 46 years, Couey answered, "Yes, sir" to the judge's questions, although he indicated he didn't remember signing a form declaring he was indigent. Couey identified his signature on the form, however, and Spivey appointed the public defender as counsel on the two charges against him.

    Spivey said four other people associated with the residence where Jessica's body was found -- across the street from where she lived with her father and grandparents -- also had first appearances Saturday. Those four were arrested on charges unrelated to the girl's death.

    The case puzzled investigators because the Lunsford home showed no sign of forced entry. Jessica's room showed no signs of a struggle, and a stuffed animal was the only thing missing. The front door was unlocked, but the home was otherwise undisturbed.

    Initially sought as a "person of interest" in Jessica's disappearance, Couey was among a number of sex offenders whom police looked for after Jessica was reported missing, authorities said.

    A relative told detectives that Couey left Florida Feb. 28 on a bus -- under an assumed name -- for Savannah, Georgia, where he was interviewed by police Saturday at a shelter. Savannah police had no jurisdiction to hold him, and he eventually made his way to Augusta, Georgia, more than 100 miles away, where he was arrested at a Salvation Army shelter.

    Couey waived extradition at a hearing Friday, and was jailed on suicide watch at the Richmond County Law Enforcement Center in Augusta, Georgia. He arrived at the Citrus County jail early Sunday.

    Couey was registered in Citrus County as a sex offender, and, under state law, a convicted sex offender must register any change of address. His criminal history spans more than 30 years and 24 arrests.

    Dawsy would not release a time frame for Jessica's death, but said investigators had visited the place where he was living in the days after the girl disappeared, and she was not there.

    The four people arrested at the residence were identified by police as Gene Secord, 35, on failure to pay child support; Madie Dixon Secord, 27; Dorothy Marie Dixon, 47; and Matthew Dittrich, 31, for obstruction of justice.

    CNN's Susan Candiotti and Paul Courson contributed to this report.

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