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Search under way for girl's body

Sheriff: 'I've got my man'

Law enforcement officials search the area around John Couey's residence.
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John Couey is taken into custody on unrelated charges.

Sheriff says Couey confessed to abducting and killing Jessica.

Convicted sex offender Couey confesses to police.
John "Johnny" Evander Couey
  • White male
  • Born September 19, 1958
  • 5 feet 4 inches, 125 pounds
  • Blue eyes, gray hair
  • Goatee
  • Tattoos on right arm

    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 SPRINGS, Florida (CNN) -- Three weeks after 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford disappeared from her home, authorities said Friday a convicted sex offender who had fled to Georgia confessed to kidnapping and killing her.

    As the search for Jessica's body continued under bright lights erected just across the street from her home, police were questioning three people described as associates of John Evander Couey -- a 46-year-old sex offender with a long criminal history.

    Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy said Couey made the confession after undergoing an FBI-administered polygraph test, Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy said.

    "At the end of the polygraph, he says, 'You don't need to tell me the results. I already know what they are,'" Dawsy said.

    Couey then asked that investigators come back into the room and "apologized to the investigators for wasting their time," the sheriff said.

    "John Couey admitted to abducting Jessica and subsequently taking her life," Dawsy told reporters. "I've got my man ... We are now in a major criminal case."

    Dawsy said Couey provided general information about where the body could be found, and he said the search could take hours. Law enforcement sources told CNN that Couey said he buried the girl behind his sister's home, located across the street from the Lunsfords, where he had been staying.

    Dawsy said the girl's father, Mark Lunsford, and her mother, Angela Bryant, who lives in Ohio, had been notified of the development.

    "This is a very tough time, not only for me, it's a very tough time for the family," the sheriff said, his voice cracking.

    Lunsford said he would make a statement Saturday.

    Bryant, trying to choke back tears, said a police investigator called her with the news of Jessica's death. She planned to travel to Florida Sunday.

    "He said that the man that they had been questioning admitted what he had done and he took my daughter's life," she told reporters.

    "He will pay, he will pay for hurting those children out there and my daughter. He will pay. He deserves everything he gets coming to him," said Bryant, who said she woke up early Friday "and felt something was wrong."

    "I love her. I always have and I always will. ... I'll see her again. I will."

    Couey late Friday remained in the custody of authorities in Georgia. Dawsy said he was working with the state's attorney about the extradition process, adding that they have built "a very methodical case."

    Sex offender's "associates" questioned

    Citrus County Sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney said three people who were "associates" of Couey were taken to police headquarters Friday evening for questioning, following a lookout posted for them. She did not disclose what significance investigators placed on them.

    Outside the home where Couey lived, authorities sealed off the area with yellow crime scene tape and sheriff's deputies could be seen combing the area.

    Jessica Marie Lunsford was last seen on Feb. 23 when friends dropped her off after going to church and her grandmother tucked her in to bed for the night in the family's home in Homosassa Springs. She was missing the next morning.

    The case had puzzled investigators because there was no sign of forced entry. Jessica's room was intact with no signs of a struggle, but a stuffed animal her dad won for her at a state fair was missing. And except for an unlocked front door, the home where she lived with her father and grandparents was undisturbed.

    Arrest made in Georgia

    A relative told detectives that Couey left Florida Feb. 28 on a bus -- under an assumed name -- for Savannah, 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, more than 100 miles away where he was arrested at a Salvation Army shelter.

    Couey has a criminal record spanning more than three decades and 24 arrests. Interviews with Couey began Thursday in Georgia, when authorities spoke with him for almost four hours, and resumed early Friday. He had been arrested on probation violation charges.

    Couey was among a number of sex offenders whom police looked for after Jessica was reported missing, authorities said. When they went to the residence where he was mostly recently registered as living, he could not be found, and authorities determined that he was living with his relatives across from the Lunsford home.

    Couey was registered in Citrus County as a sex offender, and under state law, a convicted sex offender must register any change of address.

    CNN Correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.

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