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The Jessica Lunsford tragedy

Judge decides that Couey's courtroom doodling can continue

By JOHN FRANK
Published February 27, 2007


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MIAMI - Potential jurors in the trial of Jessica Lunsford's accused killer addressed serious questions Monday about the death penalty, but the man in the hot seat didn't even notice.

John Couey spent most of the day in court coloring - as he has for the last two weeks - after Circuit Judge Ric Howard thwarted attempts by prosecutors to get him to stop.

Prosecutors argued that the behavior unfairly tainted potential jurors who will weigh his mental competency when suggesting a sentence if Couey is found guilty of kidnapping, raping and killing Jessica.

Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway said the coloring "amounts to unsworn, nonverbal testimony" and he asked the judge to order Couey to stop.

Couey started coloring Feb. 13, when the court took a break from jury selection so defense attorneys could present evidence that he suffers from mental illness and retardation.

Ridgway said the timing was not unintentional.

Many observers and Jessica's father, Mark, say the behavior represents questionable ethics on the part of the defense attorneys.

But Assistant Public Defender Alan Fanter said it was not an intentional act and it's not disrupting the court.

He noted that jail guards who testified in pretrial hearings mentioned Couey often doodles with colored pencils.

"We think it's his normal behavior, and I think he should be allowed to do it," Fanter said.

The judge agreed, saying "it's as troublesome as a cloudy day."

"The man is on trial for his life, and if this is how he calms himself down" then it's fine, Howard said.

Death qualification - the process of exploring potential jurors' moral, religious or personal views on capital punishment - will continue today. Fifteen people from the pool of 71 prospective jurors were excused Monday.

The judge hopes to seat a jury by Wednesday morning and possibly begin opening statements the same day.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or 352 860-7312.

[Last modified February 27, 2007, 05:35:45]


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