Court watcher is lady in white

The Lake County woman says the color of her garb washes away sins and is the color of justice.

Published July 12, 2006

TAVARES - The woman wore white to court.

She made her way past the herd of reporters and cameras in the back of the courtroom and took a seat a few rows behind John Couey.

Jane Keck wasn't trying to make a statement.

The 71-year-old Lake County woman said she just wanted to watch.

"I'm a court watcher," she said Tuesday, fixing her white hat with a band of sequins that matched those on her handbag.

Since 1984, after she lost her job as a nursing assistant, Keck has been coming to the Lake County courthouse almost every day to watch trials.

She said she has seen a lot of cases involving crimes against children, but nothing like this.

"It's just so sad," she said.

Keck said she wears white because it washes away sins. It's the color of justice, she said.

There are many reporters, photographers and bloggers in and around the courtroom. Keck has been the only local spectator.

She said she doesn't doubt lawyers will find a fair jury in Lake County.

But even after all these years she can't predict the outcome of this case.

"Only God knows what will happen," she said, turning her eyes to Couey.

Who is Sara Anne Wood? A potential juror on Tuesday said he could not serve because the death of Jessica Lunsford is too similar to the death of a young girl he knew - and helped search for - in 1993.

Sara Anne Wood was 12. She was riding her bike home from summer Bible school just outside Utica, N.Y., but she never made it home. Her body was never recovered, according to the Standard Times, a newspaper in New Bedford, Mass.

According to the newspaper, Lewis Lent Jr., a former janitor from North Adams, Mass., was sentenced to 25 years to life for Sara's abduction and murder. Lent confessed to kidnapping Sara, taking her into the woods, striking her with a tree limb and burying her in a shallow grave, without ever checking to see if she was dead, the newspaper reported.

According to another newspaper, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, Lent also killed 12-year-old Jimmy Bernardo of Pittsfield, Mass., and attempted to abduct a 12-year-old girl in that same town in 1994.

The potential juror, a white man, was excused.

Differing styles: On Monday, the first day of jury selection in the Couey case, the judge greeted prospective jurors with warm hellos, leaning in close to speak to them and sprinkling his remarks with "okey-dokeys."

On Tuesday, Circuit Judge Ric Howard was still his matter-of-fact, folksy self. But he also was more noticeably serious at times, particularly when taking the media to task for some missteps.

For more on that, see today's main story in the Metro & State section.

Staying focused: Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, appeared on CNN late Monday with host Nancy Grace.

She asked him about the case. He said it should be left to the lawyers and the judge.

What residents should focus on, he said, was contacting federal lawmakers and encouraging them to approve legislation cracking down on convicted sex offenders like Couey.

Times staff writer Jim Ross contributed to this report