Reporter's Notebook: Testimony Ends in Couey Murder Trial

"He started out," said Detective Daniel Holder, "by saying he didn't know why the media was blowing this out of proportion, that cases like this happen all the time."

That, he said, is what John Couey said about the murder of Jessica Lunsford.

He said it, according to court testimony, when Citrus County, Fla., detectives Holder and Gary Atchison visited him in jail. They said they went there to retrieve hair samples for comparison to strands of hair found at the crime scene.

They testified they spent two hours and 15 minutes with Couey. There were no hair test results submitted into evidence.

The jury that will determine whether Couey murdered the little girl heard from three other correctional officers on Tuesday, when both the prosecution and defense rested.

It was determined by the court, and therefore allowed, that Couey made voluntary incriminating statements to the officers, since he was the one who began conversations with them while in their care and custody.

There was consensus among the witnesses as to Couey's choice of words:

They testified Couey said "that he didn't know why he did what he did," and "I didn't mean to do what I did," and "he didn't understand why he did what he did," according to Atchison, Holder and Kenneth Slanker, a corrections officer.

Corrections officers John Read and Nathalia Windham said Couey stated matter-of-factly that he held Jessica captive for three days, had sex with the 9-year-old on the first day and that she was even aware and knew when law enforcement came to the trailer searching for her.

Windham said Couey explained to her how he began the murder, by first telling Jessica he was going to take her home, and that "he told her to get into the plastic bag because he didn't want people to see her walking across the street."

It was determined in cross examination that Windham and Read did not note what Couey told them in their daily logbooks, because Windham said, it was "not her job."

The testimony from the five witnesses followed two days of undisputed forensic and biology analysis that demonstrated several fingerprint and DNA matches retrieved from Couey's room:

— On his mattress and a throw pillow, on which they found DNA from Couey and Jessica, including one mixed stain containing DNA from each.

— In Couey's closet, where they found three of Jessica's fingerprints and a DNA match for her blood.

— On a pizza supply box and glass tabletop in the room they found both Couey's and Jessica's prints.

— Couey's prints also were found on a box of garbage bags of the size and type in which Jessica's body was found.

DNA analyst Roshale Gaytmenn testified that she was not asked to test for anyone's DNA other than Couey's and Jessica's.

Finally, "Fracture Mat Analyst" Jerry Cirino testified that the speaker wire found around Jessica's wrists matched the plastic contours on a wire hanging down in Couey's room.

After the prosecution ran for four days with statements from 23 witnesses, the defense's case lasted less than 40 minutes. Shortly after 2 p.m., Public Defender Dan Lewan called one witness, mental health expert Dr. Robert Berland.

Berland testified that the corrections officers provided the only social contact for Couey during his lengthy incarceration (which was for Couey's own protection from other inmates).

Because of that contact and due to Couey's mental illness and mental retardation, he determined that it provided conditions that were "circumstantially coercive" and "whether inadvertent," they in effect produced the same results that an official interrogation would have, comparing it to techniques he found in a Department of Defense field manual.

Berland said he had no evidence to determine whether a false confession had been made. "If I went outside the basis of my expertise," he said, "it was not a false confession"

In the end, of note, Couey's own sister and niece (and the entire household) were called on behalf of the prosecution, not the defense.

And, as pointed out by the Ocala Star Banner's Mabel Perez, had Dorothy Dixon not allowed law enforcement to search her trailer voluntarily and investigators instead obtained a search warrant after the unlawful confessional interrogation, all of the evidence could have been thrown out.

Couey himself blamed his sister for the murder, according to testimony:

Atchison: "He said, 'If my sister had loved me more, this never would have happened.'"

Holder: "He said if his sister had paid more attention to him, this might not have happened."

Fellow prisoner Gen Secord: "He said if his sister would've loved him more, this might not have happened."

The last statement was made, Secord testified, when he spent time in jail next to Couey for failing to pay child support.


Medical Examiner Stephen Cogswell determined that Jessica died of suffocation three weeks prior to when she was found and was sexually assaulted within hours of her death. Trace evidence could not be pinpointed due to the amount of decompositional fluid where she was discovered: in two trash bags knotted at either end under Couey's back stairs.

Closing arguments began Wednesday morning. Due to the large evidence exhibits, including Couey's mattress and closet wall, the court will paper the windows and remove the cameras in order to house the jury deliberations.