- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 19, 2005

HOMOSASSA, Fla. (AP) — The body of missing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford was found early yesterday, a day after officials said a registered sex offender had confessed to kidnapping and killing the girl.

Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy said Jessica’s body was found during an overnight search in a densely wooded area about 150 yards from the home the girl shared with her father and grandparents.

Jessica’s father, Mark Lunsford, visited the search scene shortly after sunrise and later gave a brief, emotional statement to reporters.

“Everyone heard me say, time after time, that she would be home,” Mr. Lunsford said, his eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses. “She’s home now.”

John Evander Couey, 46, confessed to kidnapping and killing Jessica after taking a lie-detector test Friday in Georgia, Sheriff Dawsy said. She disappeared from her bedroom more than three weeks ago.

“We’re en route to bring him back home,” said the sheriff, who added that he wants Mr. Couey to face the death penalty. “He’s truly a piece of trash.”

Sheriff Dawsy said Mr. Couey’s half-sister and two other persons were charged with obstruction for failing to notify police when Mr. Couey reportedly told them he had committed a crime. A fourth, the sheriff said, was picked up for questioning in the case but was charged only with failure to pay child support in an unrelated matter.

He called the four “a bunch of druggies” and said he would urge prosecutors not to allow them to plea-bargain for reduced sentences.

The three charged with obstruction were identified as Dorothy Dixon, 47, Mr. Couey’s half-sister; Madie Secord, 27; and Matthew Dittrich, 31. All apparently lived in the home near the site where the girl’s body was found.

The sheriff declined to describe their exact relationship with Mr. Couey, but he has previously said that a relative paid for a bus ticket for Mr. Couey to leave Florida and that the suspect had told other people he expected the police would be looking for him.

Mr. Lunsford has said the family did not know Mr. Couey, who was arrested Thursday.

Crews worked through the night to search for Jessica’s body in temperatures that dipped into the low 40s. Bright searchlights were erected around the perimeter, and several candles left from a late-night vigil burned nearby.

A stream of official vehicles came and went throughout the pre-dawn hours, and a state mobile forensics unit left the scene about 3:30 a.m. — about the time Jessica’s body was found and taken to nearby Leesburg for examination.

At a press conference late Friday from Ohio, the girl’s mother, Angela Bryant, repeatedly made the same vow: Mr. Couey, she said, “will pay.”

“This man’s hurt too many people,” she said through tears. “He’s hurt too many children. And one of them is my daughter. He took her life from her and she didn’t deserve it. He will pay. He will pay. For hurting them children out there and my daughter, he will pay.”

Jessica, a third grader, was last seen when she went to bed in her home Feb. 23. She was discovered missing the next morning, with the door unlocked and her stuffed animal gone. The clothes she had laid out for school were still in place, and her shoes weren’t missing.

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