On Feb. 23, 2005, John Evander Couey broke into the Lunsford’s family home and kidnapped 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, according to charges brought against him.
Couey later admitted he took her back to his home, raped her and eventually killed her by burying her alive in a garbage bag.
As simple as this case may seem, justice for Jessica and her family has been met with impediments at virtually every step of the judicial process.
Though Couey indeed confessed to the crime, Judge Ric Howard ruled the confession inadmissible as evidence because Couey was denied a lawyer. A report in the St. Petersburg Times, however, cites the prosecution’s seemingly overlooked argument: Couey’s behavior was “ambiguous,” and he was “advised of his rights numerous times before and after his request for a lawyer, and that he waived those rights at every turn.”
Last summer, the location of the trial was changed from Lake County to Miami because too many potential jurors already had the notion that the confessed child molester/murderer was a child molester/murderer.
Despite these setbacks, Couey nevertheless remains an excellent candidate for the death penalty. Jessica’s blood was found on his mattress, and Couey told police where to find the body, making the prosecution’s case solid enough without the confession. Also, Howard ruled Tuesday that Couey’s confessions to prison guards while in confinement would be admissible in court, as Couey spoke on his own free will and was not interrogated or coerced by the guards.
But, as described in an article published Monday in the Tampa Tribune, Couey’s defense lawyers are now claiming Couey is mentally retarded.
If the court accedes to such a claim, he would be barred from receiving the death penalty in Florida.
Although his most recent IQ test indicated Couey had an IQ of 64, six points below the cutoff for mental retardation, other IQ tests taken in 1978 and 1991 indicate him to have measured IQs of 71 and 78, respectively.
In documents filed Monday, the defense also argues that Couey’s intoxication at the time of the death somehow exonerates him from capital punishment.
Regardless of whether Couey meets the requirements for mental retardation or whether he was under the influence of narcotics is irrelevant: His behavior at many junctures, while he committed the crime as well as after his arraignment, suggests that he knew what he was doing in some way, meaning he’s responsible for his actions and should bear full legal responsibility.
Consider the fact that Couey admits to buying and using crack the night before the kidnapping. Had Couey been the hapless victim of the system, as his defense also claims, begging for but denied sexual offender treatment while incarcerated, he consciously failed to heed the warning signs he recognized. If he thought he was dangerous and didn’t want to harm others, why would he choose to ingest a substance that could possibly exacerbate that condition or, at the very least, irrational and impulsive behavior?
Moreover, if Couey’s defense is to claim he had little or no control over his actions because he was high, he still had control over the action – smoking crack cocaine – that led to his deadly lack of control in the first place.
Another troubling development remains. In his confession, Couey admitted to weighing the prospect of punishment with the evil of killing Jessica, saying: “You know, I was just going to let her run and she … you know, she and I got scared and I didn’t let her go … I got scared. I mean ‘cuz y’all and everybody showed up and I just didn’t know and panicked.”
A crude analysis of the above quote suggests that Couey somehow thought killing Jessica would prevent him from getting in trouble. As brutish as it is, such cold-blooded rationale implies that Couey was indeed thinking and calculating when he killed her to avert punishment.
Owing to the flimsy nature of the defense’s objections, it is likely that Couey’s defense, to borrow the title of the Tribune article, is indeed planting “the seed for appeal.” The defense’s antics, even if they fail, can be used as evidence of inadequate defense and, hence, fodder for appeal if Couey was sentenced to.
If that happens, the people and the courts of Florida should look at the facts of the case rather than the “martyr” that civil liberty and human rights groups will likely create out of Couey. Flawed procedures or not, the real victim in this case was, and remains, Jessica Lunsford.
It is due time that justice for her tragic death, rather than the protests of her antagonist, is treated as the main concern in this case.
Victoria Bekiempis is a sophomore majoring in history and French