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Couey guilty of murdering 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford

Story Highlights

• John Couey found guilty of murder, kidnapping, sexual assault
• Jurors to decide whether to recommend life in prison or death penalty
• Nine-year-old victim, Jessica Lunsford, was abducted and murdered in 2005
• Lunsford was placed in garbage bags and buried alive where she suffocated
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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- John Evander Couey was found guilty Wednesday of murder, kidnapping, sexual assault and burglary in the abduction and death of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford.

Couey, 48, stood beside his lawyer and showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

The jurors reached a verdict after about four hours of deliberation. (Watch as Couey hears he has been found guilty Video)

Earlier Wednesday, Couey sat in the courtroom, rolling his tie up and down, interlacing his fingers and twiddling his thumbs.

The penalty phase of the trial, in which jurors will decide whether Couey should get the death penalty or life in prison without parole, begins Tuesday.

In the interim, the judge ordered jurors to avoid the media and stay in semi-sequestration at home. (Watch how Couey was a longtime predator Video)

Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Richard Howard will decide whether to accept the jurors' sentence recommendation.

"Justice will prevail. That's what I've always said, but it's not over yet," said Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, after the verdict was announced. (Watch Mark Lunsford and others react to the verdict Video)

Kidnapped, buried in bags

Jessica Marie Lunsford was abducted from her Homosassa Springs, Florida, home February 23, 2005. Her body was found nearly a month later, buried within sight of her own home and behind the house where Couey was staying with a relative.

She was found wrapped in garbage bags, holding a stuffed toy dolphin, her hands bound with stereo wire.

Investigators said Couey abducted Lunsford from her bedroom. Jessica died from asphyxiation after being sexually assaulted, according to a medical examiner's report.

Police arrested Couey in Georgia in March 2005 during the search for Jessica.

His confession helped lead investigators to the girl's body, but a judge ruled the confession was inadmissible in court because he had asked for a lawyer the day before he told police he committed the crime.

Evidence at the trial included Jessica's fingerprints in a closet in Couey's trailer and DNA from Jessica's blood and Couey's semen on a mattress in his bedroom.

Jessica's father speaks out

Asked on CNN's "Larry King Live" Wednesday if he hated Couey, Lunsford said, "Yeah, definitely. Most definitely. But that's what fuels me ... that's where I get my energy to do what I do. It's the anger."

Lunsford has led a push for stricter sex offender laws since his daughter's 2005 death.

Gov. Jeb Bush signed the Jessica Lunsford Act into Florida law. The legislation calls for prison sentences of 25 years to life for sex offenses against children under age 12, better registration of convicted sex offenders and a GPS notification system to track down probation violators.

Lunsford read a statement outside the courthouse Wednesday, asking that his daughter's death serve as a wake-up call to legislators across the country.

"We have gone through hell and come out the other side with a mission: Before the next family loses a child to America's failed system, we're going to hold lawmakers accountable for allowing this open season on our children," he said.

"We are coming to Washington. We are bringing with us a dedicated plan for a federally funded, federally strategized and nationally waged war on child predators. We will force them to listen."


    • Couey said he'd apologize in heaven


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