St. Petersburg Times
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Email editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message

Guard: Couey said he killed

In an interview, the guard says Couey overheard a conversation about child care, then started talking.

Published March 31, 2006

During a casual conversation with a Citrus County jail guard in early March, John Couey said he "never meant to kill" 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford.

So says the guard, Kenneth Slanker, who recounted the conversation to investigators during a taped interview on March 8.

A six-page transcript of that interview was among documents prosecutors released Thursday. The documents, like countless others released in past months, are part of the evidence collection the state has amassed in its case against Couey.

Couey, 47, has pleaded not guilty to the kidnapping, rape and murder of Jessica. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

While awaiting trial, Couey has been housed at the county jail in Lecanto.

Slanker said Couey initiated a conversation the evening of March 5 after overhearing Slanker and co-worker Sheri Johnson talk about child care.

Slanker told Citrus sheriff's Detective Gary Atchison that Johnson had said she was scared to leave her children at a day care center.

Slanker said that Johnson then pointed in the direction of Couey.

Asked if Johnson had made the statements to "degrade or antagonize" Couey, Slanker told the detective: "I think she was just making a generalized statement that she was afraid of something like that happening to her child."

(In a separate interview on March 15, Johnson said she didn't think Couey had overheard her conversation with Slanker.)

After Slanker and Johnson had finished talking, Slanker said, Couey called him over to his cell.

Slanker said Couey "stated that you know he didn't like people talking about him like that because it hurt his feelings ... and then stated that he did not mean to do what he did - he did not mean to kill her."

When asked if Couey had used the specific word "kill," Slanker told the detective that he had.

Slanker said that Couey also said "he never thought of himself as someone who could, who could do that to someone."

Slanker said Couey went on to say "his biggest regret is that he lost everything."

Slanker said he had monitored Couey's cell in the past. He said Couey had never talked to him about the case.

Slanker said Couey made small talk and kept a journal with religious writings that he asked others to read.

Slanker said he never asked Couey direct questions about the case.

This was not the first time Couey allegedly made incriminating statements.

In March 2005, when being questioned as a "person of interest" in Jessica's disappearance, Couey confessed to the abduction, sexual assault and killing, law officers say. He was then arrested.

Before making his statements about the case, Couey asked to consult an attorney. But detectives proceeded to question him.

Sheriff's Detective Scott Grace later testified that he and Atchison believed Couey wanted to consult an attorney about whether to take a polygraph test, not about whether he should talk about Jessica's disappearance.

Still, some people have questioned whether the detectives violated Couey's rights and whether, as a result, the incriminating statements will be admissible at trial.

Times staff writer Abbie Vansickle contributed to this report. Eddy Ramirez can be reached at or 860-7305.

[Last modified March 31, 2006, 01:08:15]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters