Testimony in John Couey Trial Continues in Florida

Testimony continued Friday in the death penalty trial of John Evander Couey — the man accused of kidnapping and killing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford.

A state prosecutor told a jury Thursday that physical evidence, including DNA from blood and fingerprints, positively link Couey to the 2005 slaying.

Prosecutor Ric Ridgway said Jessica's blood was found on a mattress in Couey's room, located in a trailer about 150 yards from the Lunsford home in Homosassa. He said the girl's fingerprints were also found on a glass tabletop and on cardboard in a closet in the trailer.

Couey is a 48-year-old prior sex offender. He's accused of sneaking into the Lunsford home the night of Feb. 23 last year where he allegedly abducted Jessica, raped her and later killed her by burying her in garbage bags while she was still alive.

Two of the girl's fingers had poked through the plastic, and she was clutching a purple stuffed dolphin that her father had won at a fair.

Authorities found the girl's body after Couey told them where to look near her home in Homosassa, in central Florida. She had been missing for about a month.

A mattress in Couey's room in a trailer about 150 yards from the Lunsford home had Jessica's blood on it, and her fingerprints were found on a glass tabletop and on cardboard in a closet, prosecutor Ridgway said.

"The evidence will show that the one man responsible for all of these acts is sitting right there," Ridgway said, pointing to where Couey sat.

The case was moved to Miami because of intense pretrial news coverage. It took more than two weeks to seat a jury in Miami, where many people said they remembered the girl's disappearance and news about the ensuing search.

Couey's attorney Daniel Lewan urged jurors to be skeptical of the testimony and pay close attention to details while keeping their emotions in check. He particularly questioned how Jessica could be kidnapped silently from a house where her grandparents and their dog were also asleep.

"Look closely at the evidence. Don't just look at the picture the state wants to paint," Lewan said.

Couey was arrested after taking a bus to Georgia, but his confession to police was thrown out because he didn't have a lawyer present. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, sexual battery on a child, kidnapping and burglary. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Couey was arrested for sex crimes involving children in 1978 and 1991. He had moved near the Lunsford home without telling authorities about his convictions, as required under sex offender registration laws.

Testimony opened with Jessica's grandmother, Ruth Lunsford, saying she heard nothing the night of the disappearance until the girl's father, Mark Lunsford, told her she was missing. She also said she noticed a small cut in a screen door in the morning.

Mark Lunsford said he had spent that night with a girlfriend and arrived home at 5:45 a.m. to hear his daughter's alarm clock going off.

"It was very unusual. So, I opened up her bedroom door," Mark Lunsford said. "Jessie was gone."

Couey's sister Dorothy Dixon testified that she had shared a rock of crack cocaine with Couey and her boyfriend the night Jessica disappeared. They all went back to the rented trailer they shared, and she didn't hear or see anything until police started searching for Jessica the next day, she testified.