MIAMI – The father of the Florida 9-year-old girl raped and left to die in a dirt hole says he hopes her killer will get the maximum sentence, but stressed that the fight against child sexual predators isn't over.
"It felt good to hear four verdicts of 'guilty' but it's not over yet," Mark Lunsford told FOX News on Thursday. "We still have to do sentencing, then after sentencing, we've got a really big fight, and that's the rest of these children who are being molested by predators and sexual predators. It's not stopping."
A jury found previously convicted sex offender John Evander Couey guilty Wednesday of kidnapping and raping 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, verdicts that brought to an end a case that led to a nationwide crackdown on people convicted of sex crimes.
Mark Lunsford was seen in the courtroom glaring at Couey for much of the trial. Since the convicted sex offender's arrest in Jessica's case, Mark Lunsford has pushed for stronger child predator laws; 26 states have now passed some version of "Jessica's Law."
"It is sad that I can't see and touch my daughter but she's still here with me, she's here now with us," Mark Lunsford said Thursday.
He said as hard as it was for him to keep his cool in the courtroom while his daughter's killer sat at the defense table coloring during the trial, his only consolation was that Couey and other offenders like himself would get justly punished.
"It is hard, it really is," Mark Lunsford said of being in the same room as Couey during the trial. "But we have to understand — I walk around telling people to trust the system, justice will prevail, but if I come unglued and come out of my seat and he gets a trial again, or worse … who am I to tell people to trust in the system?"
The charges against Couey prompted Florida and a number of other states to pass new laws cracking down on sex offenders and improve tracking of them, including a new U.S. Justice Department database.
Mark Lunsford, who now sits on the board of Stop Child Predators — a group that has launched a federal and state-by-state campaign to educate and inform the public about policy changes to protect America's children from sexual predators — is pushing states around the country to pass strong laws on the topic.
But Mark Lunsford said some states with bills called "Jessica's Law" aren't including strong enough protecting or punishments in them, saying some have "passed legislation that wasn't worth the paper they wrote it on — that's on their conscience."
"We need to get this done in every state," he said. "We're going to have justice for Jessie."
Jurors deliberated about four hours before returning the verdict against Couey. The girl was snatched from her bedroom in 2005, about 150 yards from the trailer where Couey had been living.
Her body was found in a shallow hole, encased in two black plastic trash bags. She had been buried alive and suffocated, and was found clutching a purple stuffed dolphin. Two fingers poked through the top of the bags.
The jury next must decide whether Couey, 48, should get death by injection or life in prison.
Couey stood staring straight ahead and swaying slightly as the verdicts were read. Mark Lunsford showed no emotion and stared at Couey as the verdict was read.
Couey admitted to investigators shortly after his arrest that he committed the crime, but the confession was thrown out because he did not have a lawyer present as he had requested.
The evidence at trial included DNA from Jessica's blood and Couey's semen on a mattress in his bedroom, as well as Jessica's fingerprints in a closet in the trailer.
Family members of Couey's living in the trailer with him testified that they didn't notice anything amiss with Couey during the time the prosecution says Jessica was in the house.
Mark Lunsford said Couey's family members are partly to blame for what happened to his daughter, since her assault presumably happened in their home and they never called the police about any suspicious activity.
"It'd be nice if justice would prevail on that one," he said. "You can almost hear a rat sneeze at the other end [of a trailer like the one they lived in]. Come on, I'm not buying that they didn't know. As far as I'm concerned, they're lying," he told FOX News on Thursday.
Jail guards and investigators testified that Couey repeatedly admitted details of the slaying after his arrest and that he insisted he had not meant to kill the third-grader but panicked as police searched for her.
In 1991, Couey was arrested on a charge of fondling a child. In 1978, he was accused of grabbing a girl in her bedroom, placing his hand over her mouth and kissing her.
But authorities had not known that Couey was living near the Lunsford home even though he was required to tell them he had moved.
The sentencing phase is to begin Tuesday. A psychologist testified for the defense that Couey has signs of mental illness and mental retardation, mitigating circumstances that could help spare him the death penalty.
Couey spent much of the trial drawing with colored pencils, which were allowed by the judge in an effort to keep him calm; the prosecution had objected to the activity.
But Couey did pick up an earpiece whenever the judge called a sidebar with the lawyers to listen in — a move which prosecution allies say was a sign that he was very much aware of what was going on.
"I think it was an issue of convenience for him — he was trying to fool the jurors and they didn't buy into it," said Mark Gelman, Mark Lunsford's attorney, who called the retardation claims "ridiculous."
Gelman said he thinks the jury will likely sentence Couey to death.
"I don't think he has much of the chance — I think the evidence is overwhelming," he told FOX News on Thursday. "I fully expect them to sentence him to death."
FOXNews.com's Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this story.