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Couey jury wants death for Florida girl's killer

Story Highlights

Juror says "it's not an easy decision ... it is a person's life"
• Jury voted 10-2 to impose the death penalty
• Jessica Lunsford's father wept after Couey was escorted from courtroom
• Couey found guilty of kidnapping, sexually abusing and killing girl
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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Jurors on Wednesday recommended the death penalty for John Evander Couey, who was found guilty last week of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford.

The majority of the jury -- 10 in favor of death, 2 against it -- rendered the decision about 5:30 p.m. ET. In Florida, the vote does not have to be unanimous to recommend the death penalty.

Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Richard Howard will make the final decision on Couey's sentence, but judges typically follow a jury's recommendation. (Watch the jury announce its sentence Video)

As the sentence was read, Couey, 48, sat in the courtroom, fiddled with his tie, and interlaced his fingers.

"This is justice for Jessie, but not just Jessie," said Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, who cried and hugged supporters after Couey was escorted from the courtroom.

"I'm sure there's other victims out there that they didn't get justice," Lunsford continued. "You crossed paths with Couey and he hurt you, today is justice for you regardless of who you are, whether you're a stranger or a relative."

Asked if the recommended sentence brings him closer to healing, he said, "I'm still not too sure about closure."

She clutched a stuffed toy dolphin

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.

Although Wednesday's decision may have seemed quick, "we did have to discuss it," juror Thais Prado, 20, said.

"It was something -- of course it's not an easy decision ... it is a person's life. It didn't seem like it was quick, going through it," said juror Marvin Gunn, 38.

Prado said much of the testimony and evidence was emotionally trying.

"Pictures of the victim, once she was recovered, what was used on her body to tie her -- those are pictures that are very alive in my mind, images that are going to be very hard to forget, if I ever do."

"Jessie was taken from her home, that's the hard part," said alternate juror Osvaldo Pradere, 47, who said he has two small children. "Unfortunately in our society, kids aren't even safe in their own homes, in their own bed."

He said he would hold his children closer now after serving in the case. "Honestly, it will change my life forever."

Jurors noted Couey's lack of remorse or reaction, but said they focused mostly on the evidence presented.

Fueled by anger

Mark Lunsford appeared on CNN's "Larry King Live" recently and was asked if he hated Couey.

"Yeah, definitely. Most definitely," Lunsford said. "But that's what fuels me ... that's where I get my energy to do what I do. It's the anger."

Wednesday, Lunsford said he felt "relief, but still angry."

The death penalty, he said, "Will never compare to the misery that [convicted killers] caused their victims, never."

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 Global Positioning System notification mechanism to track down probation violators.

Lunsford read a statement outside the courthouse the day the verdict was handed down, 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."


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John Couey listens as he is sentenced to death for the murder, kidnapping and sexual assault of Jessica Lunsford.

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