IMAGE: Couey in court
John Evander Couey appears in court Sunday.
updated 3/21/2005 4:46:34 PM ET 2005-03-21T21:46:34

A registered sex offender was charged Monday with capital murder and three other crimes in the disappearance and death of a 9-year-old Florida girl, authorities said.

John Evander Couey was also charged with burglary with battery, kidnapping and sexual battery on a child under the age of 12. He will be arraigned on those charges Tuesday, officials said.

Authorities said he confessed to kidnapping and killing Jessica Marie Lunsford after taking a lie-detector test in Georgia. The girl’s body was found Saturday, more than three weeks after she vanished from her bedroom.

Couey, 46, was brought back to Florida and booked early Sunday on a probation violation and failure to register his change of address as required as a sex offender. He was held without bond.

Officials release details
Sheriff’s officials and the girl’s father, Mark Lunsford, have said they will urge prosecutors seek the death penalty.

The charges on Monday followed confirmation by authorities of the way she was abducted and what was done to her. They said Sunday that Couey entered Jessica’s house through an unlocked door, snatched the 9-year-old girl from her bed and later sexually assaulted her.

Medical examiners confirmed the sexual assault. But because Couey was under the influence of drugs, detectives might never know how long she was held before she was slain, Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy said.

Just one time’
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.

Lunsford said he and his relatives would soon begin planning Jessica’s funeral.

Chris Livingston  /  EPA via Sipa Press
Jessica Lunsford, shown in an undated family photo.

At Jessica’s church on Sunday, the pastor asked for prayers for the Lunsfords.

“Lord, we don’t always understand your ways,” the Rev. William LaVerle Coats told 175 grieving people during services at Faith Baptist Church, where many people saw the girl for the last time on the night she disappeared. “We accept what has taken place here, and ask that you would give us some peace.”

Coats asked churchgoers to forgive Couey. Jessica’s father said he may have a hard time with that request. “He needs to stand up and be a man now and take his death penalty,” Mark 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.

He answered that he was doing “all right,” when the judge asked how he was. Couey answered all other questions with either “Yes, sir” or “No, sir” replies.

At the end of the hearing, Spivey wished the man luck. “Thank you,” Couey said softly, before turning and shuffling away, his shackles clanging together.

Held in isolation
Couey was returned to Florida in an unmarked sheriff’s vehicle, wearing a bulletproof vest and under the cloak of darkness.

He was being held in isolation at the jail for his safety, an official said. 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.

Down the street from the Lunsford home and the church, well-wishers piled dozens of stuffed animals, flowers and candles high on a makeshift memorial. “God’s newest little angel,” one sign read.

Jessica, a third grader, was last seen in February when she went to bed after attending church. She was discovered missing the next morning.

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

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