With images of Jessica Lunsford’s dead body seared in their minds, jurors deliberated for an hour before deciding that the 9-year-old girl’s killer, John Couey, should die, the St. Petersburg Times reports. Circuit Judge Ric Howard will make the final decision on the 48-year-old Couey’s punishment, but he acknowledged it’s rare for a judge to ignore a jury’s recommendation. As jurors learned during the trial, Jessica’s disappearance deeply affected a family and a community and brought national attention to the issues of missing children and child predators.
“This is justice for Jessie,” said her father, Mark. Sentencing came just days shy of the anniversary of the unearthing of Jessica’s body from a shallow grave and garbage bags near Couey’s residence in 2005. Prosecutor Ric Ridgway told the jury that if they did not recommend the death penalty, “When will you? This is the case. This is the man who deserves it.” Couey’s defense attorney, Alan Fanter, said, “What chance did he have to succeed? He did not choose to be a pedophile; he did not choose to have a mental illness.”