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Documents give details of 9-year-old's death

Florida eyes tougher sex offender law


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A Florida community mourns 13-year-old Sarah Lunde.

A sex offender faces charges after an alleged confession.
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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- New details emerged Wednesday on the last moments in the life of slain 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, while Florida lawmakers moved forward on a bill named for her that would impose tougher penalties on sex offenders.

Some Floridians have called for harsher penalties and closer monitoring of sex offenders after the recent slayings of Lunsford and 13-year-old Sarah Michelle Lunde.

As Jessica's father, Mark, watched on Tuesday in Tallahassee, the Florida House unanimously approved the Jessica Lunsford Act. The state Senate will now take up the issue.

Today, 292 pages of court documents were made public detailing the prosecution account of her last days at the hands of her alleged killer, John Evander Couey.

Bound and buried near her home, possibly while still alive, Jessica cradled in her arms a stuffed toy dolphin, the documents say.

It was the same stuffed animal that was missing from the girl's home in Homosassa, Florida, when she disappeared, police have said. Her father won the toy for her at a fair shortly before she was abducted February 23.

In a letter found by investigators, convicted sex offender Couey confessed to killing the girl, law enforcement sources told CNN. In a previous confession to authorities, Couey said he buried the girl alive, sources have said.

Police said Couey confessed March 18, a day after he was arrested, and helped them find Jessica's body. A large-scale search involving hundreds of volunteers had failed to find the site, only a few hundred yards from the Lunsfords' home.

Jessica's body was found buried behind a house where Couey lived with his half-sister. Her body was covered by garbage bags, documents said, and her hands were bound with what appeared to be stereo wire.

Authorities have charged Couey, 46, with capital murder, burglary with battery, kidnapping and sexual battery on a child younger than 12 in Jessica's abduction and death. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. A judge has ordered him to provide handwriting and DNA samples to prosecutors.

A preliminary autopsy report has said Jessica died after being sexually assaulted, but Hernando County Medical Examiner Steven Cogswell said Wednesday that the final report is pending and the cause of the child's death might never be known.

Details released Wednesday, he said, are "initial impressions" on how Jessica died.

After Couey's arrest, Mark Lunsford said he would spearhead an effort to change Florida's sex offender laws. "There should be a law for Jesse," he said at the time.

Unanimous vote

On a 118-0 vote, the Florida House passed legislation that would require longer prison sentences, lifetime probation and electronic monitoring for sex offenders convicted of crimes against children.

The Jessica Lunsford Act would punish the molestation of children under 12 with a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life, "followed by probation or community control for the remainder of the person's natural life and subject to a system of active electronic monitoring."

The bill also would make it a third-degree felony in Florida to harbor a sex offender.

Police in Homosassa initially arrested Couey's half-sister and two others living in her home, accusing them of obstructing justice by failing to notify authorities that he was living there.

But prosecutors declined to file charges against the three, saying the withholding of information alone did not constitute a crime and there was no provision in Florida law that required someone to tell police of a sex offender's whereabouts.

Lawmakers say they want to close that loophole in the law.

The state legislation also came days after authorities in Ruskin, Florida, found Sarah Lunde's body in a pond near her house.

Sex offender David Onstott, who previously dated the girl's mother, told authorities he choked the teen and dumped her body in the pond on April 10, Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee said. Sarah's remains were found Saturday.

CNN's Rich Phillips, John Zarrella and Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.


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