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Suspect in 9-year-old's death booked into Florida jail

Jessica Lunsford's body found near home of Couey's sister

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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Mark Lunsford says his murdered daughter "is home...with me."

Jessica Lunsford's relatives mourn after her remains are found.

Sheriff Jeff Dawsy announces finding of girl's remains.
  • 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) -- The 46-year-old convicted sex offender who police say confessed to abducting and killing a 9-year-old girl was booked into the Citrus County jail early Sunday morning.

    John Evander Couey, a registered sex offender in the Florida county where Jessica Lunsford disappeared three weeks ago, confessed to killing the girl after a lie-detector test Friday, Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy said.

    Initially sought as a "person of interest" in Jessica's disappearance, Couey had been arrested Thursday in Augusta, Georgia, for failing to notify authorities he had moved -- a violation of his probation.

    Police said Saturday they found the remains of Jessica where Couey had told them he buried the girl -- behind his sister's house about 150 yards from the Lunsfords' home.

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

    Dawsy called Couey, who had been arrested 24 times in the past 30 years, "a piece of trash" and said he wants to see him "get the death penalty."

    Four other people associated with the residence where Couey had been staying were arrested on charges unrelated to the girl's death -- three for failing to notify authorities that Couey was at the home though they knew he was wanted by authorities -- Dawsy said. The other was detained for nonpayment of child support, the sheriff said.

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

    Investigators have found no evidence any of the four were involved in Jessica's death and burial, he said.

    Jessica's distraught father said earlier Saturday that his daughter is "home now."

    "Everyone heard me say time after time that she would be home," said Mark Lunsford, choking back tears. "Well, she's home now. It's over...She's right here with me."

    Lunsford said he wanted to tell all parents to "make sure you get that hug and kiss every day before you leave the house."

    Police: Couey confessed

    Friday, Dawsy said Couey made the confession after undergoing an FBI-administered polygraph test.

    Couey told authorities in Georgia that he had wasted their time with the lie-detector, Dawsy said.

    Couey then confessed to abducting and killing Jessica, he said.

    Couey waived extradition at a hearing Friday, and on suicide watch at the jail.

    Late Friday, Jessica's mother said a police investigator called her with the news of her daughter's death.

    "He said that the man that they had been questioning admitted what he had done and he took my daughter's life," Angela Bryant said, trying to hold back tears.

    "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."

    Bryant said she will travel to Florida on Sunday.

    Jessica was last seen February 23 when friends dropped her off after going to church, and her grandmother tucked her into bed. Her father found that 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.

    Susan Lunsford, Jessica's aunt, told CNN on Saturday that her niece was wary of strangers.

    "I never had the discussions with her, but I know that Jessica would have come to the family if she was ever suspicious of anyone," she said. "If she didn't like somebody she would let you know."

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

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