- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

HOMOSASSA, Fla. (AP) — The convicted sex offender who authorities say confessed to kidnapping and slaying 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford returned to Florida in shackles yesterday as her family grieved for the girl who vanished from her bedroom.

John Evander Couey was booked early yesterday on a probation violation and failure to register as a sex offender, officials said. He was being held without bail.

Couey, 46, confessed to kidnapping and killing Jessica after taking a lie-detector test Friday in Georgia, officials said. The girl’s body was found early Saturday, more than three weeks after she was snatched from her bedroom.

Jessica’s father, in an emotional statement, expressed a desire to mete out justice of his own.

“I won’t get the wish, but I wish I could see him, just one time,” said Mark Lunsford, his eyes hidden by dark sunglasses.

At Jessica’s church yesterday, the pastor asked for prayers for the Lunsfords. The Rev. William LaVerle Coats asked 175 grieving people at Faith Baptist Church to forgive Couey. Jessica’s father said he may have a difficult time with that request.

“He needs to stand up and be a man now and take his death penalty,” Mr. Lunsford said.

Earlier, Couey appeared before Circuit Judge Stephen Spivey at the Citrus County Detention Center. He was declared indigent and was told a public defender would be assigned to his case.

Couey was returned to Florida in an unmarked sheriff’s vehicle, wearing a bulletproof vest and under the cloak of darkness. As a precaution, the timing of his arrival from Georgia was kept secret, although the sheriff’s office was not aware of any threats against Couey.

Jessica, a third-grader, was last seen in February when she went to bed after attending church. She was discovered missing the next morning. Her body was found close to a nearby mobile home where Couey had been staying.

Couey’s half sister and two others who lived in the home were charged with obstructing police for failing to notify authorities when prosecutors say Couey told the three he had committed a crime.

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