Florida child killing confession may be tainted
John Couey was not given a lawyer after he asked for one and before his confession, documents show.
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(CNN) -- A Florida man's confession that he kidnapped, raped and buried alive a 9-year-old girl may never be heard by a jury because, according to documents, he previously asked for a lawyer but was not given one.
John Couey, accused of murder in the death of Jessica Lunsford, asked for an attorney on March 17, the day before he confessed, according to the transcript of his questioning released by police.
At the time of his request, Couey was maintaining he had nothing to do with the girl's disappearance. His request came after Citrus County, Florida, detectives asked him if he would take a lie detector test.
The transcript reads:
Couey: "I want a lawyer here present. I want to talk to a lawyer 'cause, I mean ... if people trying to accuse something I didn't do. I didn't do it."
Detective: "OK. Hang on, hang on, hang on, hang on. ... So if we were to do a lie detector test, you'd want to get a lawyer for that ?"
Couey: "I want to talk to a lawyer first."
But instead of providing an attorney, the questioning continued and, according to the transcripts, Couey continued answering questions without mentioning his request for an attorney again.
The next day, March 18, Couey agreed to take a polygraph, after which he confessed, sources said. According to the transcripts, his Miranda rights were read to him on several occasions over a three-day period.
The issue will undoubtedly be litigated at pretrial hearings, and is a problem for the prosecution, according to experts consulted by CNN.
"Based on the fact that he clearly invoked his right to counsel at least three times, there may be a problem," said Jeffrey Weiner, a past president of the Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
"...It seems to me the law enforcement officials did not scrupulously honor his invocation of his right to counsel and as a result, his statement might be not admissible."
Several other lawyers contacted by CNN echoed his analysis.
Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy, who led the search for Jessica Lunsford, said through a spokesman that "the case is rock solid" and was built professionally and thoroughly.
"Although there are some amateurs questioning the credibility of our case against Couey and the confession, when this case is said and done, Couey will be convicted," he said.
Another law enforcement source involved in the case told CNN that even if Couey's confession is suppressed by the court, there is sufficient evidence to prosecute.
Couey confessed after he took the lie detector test March 18, sources said.
He called investigators back into the room because, according to the sources, he told them he knew he failed the test, and was apologetic for not being honest with detectives the day before.
He then gave a lengthy statement after having his Miranda rights read to him again, according to the transcripts. He did not request an attorney after being asked if he understood his right to have one present and to refuse to answer any questions, the transcripts show.
CNN's Rich Phillips contributed to this report.
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