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Child killer sentenced to death

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Girl's father urges John Evander Couey not to appeal death sentence
  • Couey was convicted of kidnapping and killing Jessica Lunsford, 9
  • Couey said in phone conversation that he expected death sentence
  • Victim's father led push for stronger sex-offender controls
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(CNN) -- John Evander Couey was sentenced Friday to death for abducting, raping and killing a 9-year-old Florida girl by burying her alive in 2005.


John Evander Couey, in court Friday, was convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing a 9-year-old girl.

Couey did not speak during the almost hourlong hearing and showed no emotion when the sentence was pronounced in an Inverness, Florida, courtroom.

Members of Jessica Lunsford's family embraced and cried.

"[Couey] said one time that when he gets to heaven that he was gonna tell Jessie he is sorry. I got bad news, I don't think you're gonna make it there," the girl's father, Mark Lunsford, said afterward, wiping tears from his eyes.

He also urged his daughter's killer not to appeal the sentence.

"Take your punishment. Be done with it. You want to do something for her, give your life for the life you took," Lunsford said. Video See what Jessica's father had to say after the sentencing »

Citrus County Sheriff Jeffrey Dawsy told reporters after the hearing that he asked Couey to drop his appeals after the automatic appeals required by law. Couey did not reply, he said.

Judge Ric Howard pronounced the sentence as Couey, 48, sat in shackles and an orange jail jumpsuit.

"[Couey] caused a slow, suffering, conscious death," the judge said as he described Jessica's murder in chilling detail.

Couey told Jessica he was planning to take her home, but did not want her to be seen, Howard said, and so persuaded her to get into a trash bag. Couey then knotted another trash bag over her head, placed her in a hole and shoveled dirt on top of her.

The judge described how the girl poked two fingers through the bags to try to escape before she died.

"Simply stated, civilized society recoils in horror at the image of the abject fear and terror that Jessica experienced in her final, conscious minutes of life," Howard said. Watch Couey being sentenced to death Video

Howard brought many in the courtroom to tears Friday as he elaborated on how Jessica died -- by asphyxiation as her oxygen slowly ran out. A medical examiner testified she could have been alive as much as five minutes, or even longer, before she lost consciousness, Howard said.

The judge also noted that Couey made "crude, vulgar and repulsive" comments to police after his arrest regarding his sexual assault of the girl, and said the media was blowing the case out of proportion -- "this kind of thing happens every day."

After the hearing, Mark Lunsford, wearing a tie with his daughter's face emblazoned on it, spoke of the need for state and federal lawmakers to do more to protect children by pursuing more aggressive prosecution and stricter sentencing for sex offenders.

"The problem is still growing. Children are still being molested. Sex offenders and predators are still being released," Lunsford said. "Justice was served for this little girl, but what about the rest of them? What about the ones that survive?"

"You can't do anything to bring my daughter back, but you can do everything to save these other kids."

Jessica was discovered missing from her home, where she lived with her father and grandparents, on February 24, 2005. Couey later confessed to abducting her from her bedroom the previous night.

A judge threw out Couey's confession, however, saying it was inadmissible in court because he asked for a lawyer and was not provided one.

His trial was moved to Miami after a judge ruled it would be impossible to find an impartial jury in Citrus County.

Jessica's body was found buried at the home of Couey's half-sister, within sight of Jessica's home -- three weeks after she went missing.

She was wrapped in plastic garbage bags and her hands were bound with speaker wire. She was clutching a stuffed dolphin -- a toy won for her at a state fair by her father, which Couey allowed her to bring with her when she was abducted.

The girl apparently was kept for several days before being killed. Authorities found her blood on a mattress in the home where Couey was living, and also discovered her fingerprints.

During the search for the girl, as authorities and hundreds of volunteers combed Citrus County, north of Tampa, police twice visited that home.

Couey was convicted in March of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery on a child under 12. Later that month, a jury deliberated for about an hour before recommending 10-2 that Couey, a previously convicted sex offender with a 30-year criminal history, receive the death penalty.

In a recorded jailhouse phone call this month with a woman who Florida corrections officials said is his aunt, Couey said he expected to be sentenced to death for killing Jessica in 2005.

"We all know what he's going to do," Couey said of the judge during the call, an excerpt of which CNN obtained.

He told the woman, "I kick myself in the butt a hundred times a day. Stupidity. ... Just trying to figure out, I'm just asking myself, why was you so stupid?"

"Well, none of us are perfect, and the drugs didn't help any," the woman said.

"No, that was a big problem," Couey said. "Drugs, alcohol."

The St. Petersburg Times reported that during the hourlong conversation, Couey also told the woman he wanted to be cremated after his execution.


But he said, "There's a lot of good that came out of this, too. A lot of laws changed."

Jessica's slaying sparked national outrage and led to stricter Florida laws regarding registration and supervision of released sexual predators, following a push led largely by Mark Lunsford. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.

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