Jessica Lunsford Trial May Change Venue

The registered sex offender accused of abducting, sexually assaulting and killing a 9-year-old girl most likely will be tried somewhere other than the county where the crimes occurred, the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys said Wednesday.

Public fury in Citrus County (search) has been running high since the March arrest of John Couey (search), 46, in the death of Jessica Lunsford (search) in her hometown of Homosassa, about 60 miles north of Tampa.

At Wednesday's pretrial hearing, the judge agreed with both sides that media attention would make it difficult to select a jury drawn from a pool of local citizens.

Couey has pleaded innocent to charges of capital murder, burglary with battery, kidnapping and sexual battery on a child less than 12 years of age.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.

Jessica was last seen the night of Feb. 23 when she went to bed. She was discovered missing the next morning. Her body was found three weeks later, buried near a mobile home where Couey had been staying at the time of the abduction.

Jessica was alive when buried in garbage bags and died of asphyxiation. Outrage over the crime prompted the Legislature to pass a law establishing a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life for people convicted of certain sex crimes against children 11 and younger, with lifetime tracking after they are freed.