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Law

Murder charge brought against man accused in slaying of girl

Report indicates girl died of asphyxiation


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John Evander Couey appears in court Sunday. He confessed to killing Jessica Lunsford, police said.
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John Evander Couey appears in a Florida courtroom.

A look at the long criminal history of John Couey.

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

INVERNESS, Florida (CNN) -- The 9-year-old Florida girl whose body was found last Saturday buried in a neighbor's yard was asphyxiated, a medical examiner's report said Monday.

Part of the medical examiner's report was attached to the arrest warrant against John Evander Couey, who was charged Monday with capital murder in the death of Jessica Marie Lunsford, the Citrus County sheriff said.

"If we could just, for one day, use the electric chair, I would like that," Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, told CNN. "Somebody needs to kill him."

Couey, 46, also is charged with burglary with battery, kidnapping and sexual battery on a child less than 12 years of age. The charges carry no bond.

Formal charges will follow an indictment by a grand jury.

Couey -- a convicted sex offender with a long criminal history -- was scheduled to appear on the new charges Tuesday morning in the Citrus County Detention Center courtroom in Inverness, the county seat.

Couey was being held at the Citrus County jail, away from the general inmate population for his own safety.

Authorities found Jessica's body about 4 a.m. Saturday buried behind the home of Couey's half sister in Homosassa, north of Tampa. That residence is within eyesight of Jessica's house.

Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy said there was evidence that the child had been sexually assaulted.

Lunsford said there will be a private family funeral service on Thursday, followed by another service on Friday for family and friends. He said a public memorial service will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church in Crystal River, Florida.

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

Couey allegedly confessed to abducting, killing and burying Jessica.

"I believe some of it," Dawsy said. "I don't believe everything he has told us. I think he was in a drug-induced haze for a portion of the time.

"We may never have a true timeline," he said. "There were two people that knew -- Jessica, who's gone, and this individual Couey, and because of his state with drugs, he was all over the place."

The sheriff and other sources said the suspect entered the house during the night of February 23, made his way to Jessica's room, covered her mouth, ordered her to remain quiet and forced her to leave.

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

Couey may have held her captive for a day or two, investigators said.

Investigators awaited results of a test on evidence from the home where Couey was staying, and officials have informed the girl's family about the details surrounding Jessica's death.

"Actually, it was a relief because I don't have to wonder," said Lunsford.

He said he is spearheading an effort to change the law to keep repeat sexual offenders incarcerated. "There should be a law for Jesse," Lunsford said.

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


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