Mark Lunsford Suing Florida Sheriff's Office Over Handling of Daughter's Death

This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," February 25, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Factor Follow-up" segment tonight: It's been three years now since nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford was murdered in Florida by convicted sex offender John Couey, who never should have been out on the street. "The Factor" has been critical of prosecutor Brad King for not charging Couey's trailer-mates, who mislead police and actually helped Couey escape.

Now Jessica's father is planning to sue the Citrus County sheriff's office, claiming police negligence. Joining us now from Jacksonville, Florida, the two attorneys involved, Mark Gelman and Eric Block.

All right. Counselor Gelman, let's start with you. This is not about the aftermath. This is about Mark Lunsford, Jessica's father, thinks that his daughter's life could have been saved by the cops? Is that what this is about?

MARK GELMAN, MARK LUNSFORD'S ATTORNEY: That's correct, Bill. It's been three years. Mark's had a lot of time to reflect on what happened. And he's concerned that the history has not been reported correctly. This case is about establishing the truths as we know them. And the truth is Jessie didn't have to die. She could have been saved.


GELMAN: Well, there are several reasons. A few months before Jessie was abducted, FDLE sent a letter to Sheriff Dawsy advising him to round up the sex offenders in the area. Couey was on that list, and no one ever went to search for him. We understand that just two weeks before Jessie was abducted, Couey was reported to law enforcement as living in that trailer right in front of her house. They were told where he was. They were told that he had a warrant for his arrest, that he was a sex offender and to pick him up. And no one went and got him.

O'REILLY: All right. So let's stop there. So the first step is that Florida authorities told Citrus County Sheriff Dawsy to pick up Couey, and he didn't pick him up. And he knew, you guys are alleging, that Couey was living very close to the little girl. Do I have it correct?

GELMAN: That's correct.

O'REILLY: All right. Now, Mr. Block, the sheriff's office, of course, disputes this and says, "Hey, if we had known, we would have picked him up." So, it's a he said-she said, is it not?

ERIC BLOCK, MARK LUNSFORD'S ATTORNEY: Well, Bill, isn't it interesting that tonight on your show for the first time we are specifying the allegations that we're making and what we think we can prove?

Interestingly, the sheriff came out last week and categorically denied all allegations of any negligence. There had been no allegations made yet, Bill. Why was — what was he denying?

O'REILLY: Well, he was getting, you know, news people calling him, because it was in the wind that Mark Lunsford might do this.

What else do you got, Counselor Block? Do you have anything else, other than the failure?

BLOCK: Unfortunately and tragically, we have a lot of things. We also know that on day one — we've been contacted by volunteer dog handlers that are expertise in finding missing people and have a track record of it. They were at the scene. They were tracking tracks which would have gone in the direction of the Couey trailer. And they were specifically told to stand down by Citrus County sheriff's officers.


BLOCK: We — I don't know why. We look forward to the opportunity of asking him that question.

We also have been contacted by neighbors who reported on day one — now, this little girl was alive for at least three and maybe as long as up to six days after she was abducted. And on day one, it was reported to the sheriff's office that there was a ladder under a window at this trailer which happened to turn out to be Couey's window.

We also have evidence that they did go to Couey's trailer and knocked on the door and asked if they could search the perimeter and never asked to come inside on the day that that little girl was in that trailer. It's just horrendous.

GELMAN: And Bill, let me add this. They actually went to that trailer, to Couey's trailer, on four occasions during the first two days and, despite very suspicious circumstances that are documented in the sheriff's deputies' reports, they never asked to search inside that trailer.

O'REILLY: I mean, I know that, and it's inexplicable to me that after the fact that three people that were living in the trailer with Couey weren't charged when they lied to the cops because, as you said, they went four times, and they said oh, we don't know him. And then they bought him a bus ticket to go to Georgia, where he was subsequently arrested. Do you know why they weren't charged, Mr. Block?

BLOCK: No, no, we don't know why. Again, Mr. Lunsford's priorities at the time were making sure that his little girl's murderer was brought to justice.

O'REILLY: Right.

BLOCK: And that happened. Tragically, the powers that be that made those decisions on who to prosecute and who not to prosecute decided not to prosecute the other people that were involved in the trailer.

O'REILLY: Are you guys going to get into that?

BLOCK: Maybe your show can do something about it. Again, we're civil lawyers.

GELMAN: And let me tell you this. We believe that there is more to the story. And we're going to look for the people that were in that trailer. They're out there somewhere. And we're going to find them, and we're going to ask them these hard questions. We haven't been able to ask them the questions yet, because we haven't had any legal ability to do so.

O'REILLY: Well, you know they're drug addicts. They're drug addicts.

GELMAN: It would be fascinating to ask them, to put them in there and say look, why did you do that? You knew that the cops were there looking for Couey and, you know, and then — look, it's just such a mess.

O'REILLY: All right. We're going to follow the civil suit. Gentlemen, we appreciate you coming on.

Jeff Dawsy, the sheriff of Citrus County, is welcome to come on any time he wants to rebut. That's the fair thing to do.

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