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Couey trial will not be delayed

A judge denies defense requests for more time to deal with new evidence.

By JOHN FRANK
Published February 2, 2007


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INVERNESS - Legal wrangling and mounds of new evidence won't keep the trial of John Couey from starting on time.

In Thursday's final hearing before jury selection starts Feb. 12, Circuit Judge Ric Howard denied the latest in a string of requests by defense attorneys to delay the proceedings.

He ordered Couey's defense team to take depositions within 24 hours from two key witnesses - jail guards who say they heard Couey make incriminating statements. "All right, gentlemen, you have your homework assignments," he said.

Assistant Public Defender Daniel Lewan asked the judge for more time to confront the thousands of pages of new evidence and dozen witnesses who surfaced just three weeks ago. "We are being forced to do deposition before we are prepared," Lewan told the judge.

Last week, Howard added Inverness private attorney Charles Vaughn to the defense team to help ease the workload. But Thursday, he quickly dismissed Vaughn after Couey objected to his appointment.

That move effectively negated a defense appeal to the 5th District Court of Appeal that challenged Howard's authority to make the appointment.

Lewan told the judge that Vaughn's brief appointment only put the defense further behind and still fought for a delay. He said preparation for the depositions involved consultation with interrogation experts and psychologists.

Unlike previous incriminating statements Couey made to jail officer Kenneth Slanker, these were involuntary, Lewan said. "This has completely changed the complexion of the case," he said.

He believes that the way jail officials treated Couey - befriending him during card games and talking about religion - amounted to interrogation that brings into the picture the Geneva Conventions and Abu Ghraib military scandal.

"We need time to show that they used either consciously by plan or unconsciously these interrogation techniques that will render Mr. Couey's statement involuntary," Lewan said.

Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway said he didn't understand why the defense didn't start preparing and taking depositions when it first heard about the new witnesses on Jan. 11.

"I think this case is ready to go," he told Howard. "It just needs to go forward."

Couey is accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford in February 2005. The state is seeking the death penalty.

The trial was moved to Miami after efforts to seat a jury in Lake County failed last year.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or 860-7312.

[Last modified February 1, 2007, 23:56:22]


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