'Factor Investigation:' Could Jessica Lunsford's Killer Escape the Death Penalty?

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," June 17, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Factor Investigation" segment we are looking into the brutal murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford in Florida. She may have been buried alive clutching a stuffed animal.

Police believe Jessica was held in a small trailer for days while her confessed killer, John Couey, sexually abused her. Also in that trailer, three other people who have not been charged by prosecutor Brad King (search), even though there's evidence they helped Couey.

Thousands of you have contacted Governor Jeb Bush about the case, and here is a statement he is issuing: "The Florida Constitution limits the governor's intervention in matters that should be resolved through the court system. The elected state attorney has the sole discretion to file or decline to file criminal charges in a particular case."

So Bush is staying out of the Lunsford situation, which is interesting, because just today the governor asked another Florida prosecutor to investigate Michael Schiavo (search).

Also there are now reports police may have not properly advised [John] Couey, the confessed killer, of his rights.

Joining us from Orlando is radio talk show host Pat Campbell, who's closely following the case, and from Fort Lauderdale, Herb Cohen, the attorney representing Jessica's father.

Counselor, is it true that the police in Citrus County (search) didn't advise John Couey of his rights and that a lot of the things he told them may be thrown out? Is that true?

HERB COHEN, ATTORNEY FOR MARK LUNSFORD: Basically, the answer to that is yes. What is true is that, at some point during the — there's a number of conversations Couey had with police. The first one doesn't count. The second one that did, which is an extensive admission and confession of all the things he did and how he did it, may be lost because of a lack of Miranda warnings (search).

O'REILLY: Now who told you that?

COHEN: Well, initially what hapened was when the state attorney realized that they may have a problem with this case, they went out to Mark's home. I wish they would have contacted me first. They didn't.

O'REILLY: All right, this is the father, Mark Lunsford. The police went to his home. And then pick it up. Go ahead.

COHEN: They went to Mark Lunsford's home, one of the prosecutors and one or two investigators, and they said there's a chance of losing the confession.

And what happened simply was, Bill, is that they started talking to Couey. They talked to him 20, 25 minutes. At some point in time he said — we're not sure now exactly what he said —because this is important — that he wanted a lawyer. They stopped the questioning. They went back the next morning and started again.

There's no indication that they invoked the Miranda warnings at that point. There's no indications as to how he said he wanted a lawyer. But because of just starting up the questioning again...

O'REILLY: Was the interrogation videotaped as it should have been?


O'REILLY: It's — and that's — now Pat, this is the reason I think that King won't charge these three others. Because...

PAT CAMPBELL, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I think you're absolutely right, Bill.

O'REILLY: The sheriff botched the case from the get-go. King is covering for the sheriff. That's what's going on, right?

CAMPBELL: This is the missing piece of the puzzle that we've been looking at. We've been banging our heads for weeks, trying to figure out why he wouldn't prosecute the occupants of the mobile home.

Now, if what Herb is telling us is true, and I have no reason to doubt him, this case was compromised from the get-go. Not only couldn't he go after the people in the mobile home, but John Couey, because of the way that this case was mishandled — this is gross incompetence from the get-go — mishandled, could actually escape the death penalty.

Worst-case scenario, Bill — you want to talk about outrage. Couey could actually walk away from this thing, worst-case scenario.

O'REILLY: No, I don't think that will happen. Because there is physical evidence.

CAMPBELL: I hope he doesn't. Worst-case scenario. But at the very least, he might be able to escape the death penalty.

O'REILLY: All right. But here's — here's the thing.

CAMPBELL: People are going to blow a gasket over this.

O'REILLY: Of course they are if they care, and I don't know how many people care or not. But Brad King should have been upfront about this and say there are problems with the investigation. Here are the problems.

CAMPBELL: Absolutely.

O'REILLY: And worst thing, we're investigating and we're getting it out of Counselor Cohen and you. It's like the three of us are doing the investigation, not Sheriff Dawsy and not Brad King. They're trying to cover it up, I believe. Aren't they?

CAMPBELL: The other thing — the other thing here, too, Jeb Bush is not being straight with you. He has the constitutional power in the state of Florida to appoint a special prosecutor. I know, because he did it right here in my own backyard in Orlando when he went after our mayor.

O'REILLY: I didn't want to call the governor — let me put it this way. I didn't want to imply the governor wasn't telling the truth, all right, because maybe the statement that he wrote wasn't — I don't know. But he could do that? He could appoint a special prosecutor?

CAMPBELL: He has the power.

O'REILLY: He has the power.

CAMPBELL: That's the bottom line.

O'REILLY: Now he's not telling the people who call his office that. And the people can decide about Jeb Bush.

Now, there is a federal investigation going on, Counselor, as you know. There's also an autopsy in play. Can you tell us about either of those things?

COHEN: Well, I yesterday spoke with the prosecutor on the case, Magrino, Mr. Magrino. And he's informed me that the autopsy's been released. He hasn't seen it yet, but he's spoken to the people that performed the autopsy.

There's a number of slides. But the news that he's telling me is not what I expected to hear. He's telling me that they indicted — the indictment reads that this death took place between February 24 and March 5. I was hoping that the autopsy would be able to narrow that time frame down. He's saying it has not been able to do that. I'm concerned about that. He's saying there's really nothing new in the autopsy. We talked about a few other things.

O'REILLY: Was she buried alive?

COHEN: I believe — I still believe that she was.

O'REILLY: Does the autopsy show that?

COHEN: He hasn't been able to confirm that yet.

O'REILLY: Well, this is — this is King's deputy who's tell you this, right?

COHEN: That's correct.

O'REILLY: So you haven't gotten the autopsy. But you're going to do your own independent analysis of that autopsy, correct?

COHEN: That is correct.

O'REILLY: All right, you need to do that. Don't count on these guys. And what about the federal investigation?

COHEN: Well, again, I have heard — we were in New York at Senate hearings, Mark Lunsford and I. He testified up there. We heard up there, as we heard from you and down here that...

O'REILLY: Because you haven't — they haven't been in touch with you or anything?

COHEN: I've written them about a week and a half, two weeks ago. I have not gotten a response back from the U.S. attorney in the middle district.

O'REILLY: All right. Keep us posted, both of you gentlemen, please. This case has been botched. We now know that. And we're making good progress. And we're not going to let it go. I mean...

COHEN: Thank you.

O'REILLY: ... we're not going to let it go.


O'REILLY: Right.

CAMPBELL: Thanks, Bill.

O'REILLY: All right.

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