File photo of Jessica Lunsford
Reuters file
Jessica Lunsford, 9, is seen in an undated family photo.
updated 4/9/2005 9:28:44 PM ET 2005-04-10T01:28:44

State lawmakers on Saturday pledged tougher measures against sexual offenders in the wake of a 9-year-old girl’s alleged abduction and killing by a registered sex offender who had been living across the street.

“If Jessie can be taken from her own safe little bed while her grandparents slept nearby, how safe are our own children tonight?” asked Diane Toto, who organized the community forum in Jessica Marie Lunsford’s hometown.

Republican state Sen. Nancy Argenziano said the Legislature is taking up a bill that would toughen the maximum penalty for molesting children younger than 12. The bill would require an offender to wear an electronic tracking bracelet for life after being released from prison.

U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, also a Republican, said that once Florida tightens its laws, she will work to make sure the rest of the nation follows.

Suspect skirted law
Florida residents have grown increasingly angry as details have emerged showing how the man accused of abducting and killing Jessica skirted the law.

Citrus County authorities have said that John Evander Couey, 46, failed to register with police after he changed residences, making it difficult to find him. Despite a previous conviction for a sex crime against a minor, Couey also briefly worked as a mason’s assistant at Homosassa Elementary School, where Jessica was a third-grader.

In response, an area business leader said he has collected about 110,000 signatures calling for tougher laws against sexual predators.

The Citrus County School Board will also vote on Tuesday to require its contractors and their subcontractors to screen employees against Florida’s sex offender registry.

“We’ve got to let these people know we’re not going to put up with it,” said Ruth Lunsford, Jessica’s grandmother.

Jessica disappeared from her home the night of Feb. 23. Authorities said Couey confessed to the kidnapping, sexual assault and killing of Jessica after he was arrested last month. He told investigators where to look for her body, and Jessica was found buried near the mobile home where Couey lived on March 19.

Couey pleaded not guilty last week to four counts, including capital murder, and is jailed without bond.

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