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Jurors haunted by Jessica pictures

They see images of the dead girl covered in black plastic trash bags.

By JOHN FRANK
Published March 3, 2007


MIAMI - Jurors in the trial of John Couey left Courtroom 4-1 on Friday with a haunting memory:

Jessica Lunsford covered in two black trash bags, sitting knees to chest and holding a stuffed purple dolphin. Her hands bound with speaker wire. Two fingers poking through the plastic. Buried alive just 5 feet from Couey's home.

The day before, jurors heard from family members about a fun-loving 9-year-old girl. But testimony on Friday described a decomposing corpse, an image designed to stick with jurors for the entire weekend.

"We wanted to leave them with that," said Brad King, the state attorney for the 5th Judicial Circuit. "That was the point."

The day's testimony revolved around the physical evidence gathered from Couey's bedroom, including his mattress stained with Jessica's blood and the inner wall of his closet, where her fingerprints were found. But it was Jessica's exhumed body that drew the most response in the courtroom.

Couey, 48, led authorities to the location of her burial a month after she disappeared. But prosecutors couldn't tell jurors because the judge ruled the confession was inadmissible.

Crime scene investigator Daniel Holder turned toward the jury and spoke in a firm, even tone as he told how detectives with the Citrus County Sheriff's Office processed the shallow grave on the east side of the mobile home at 6647 Snowbird Court in Homosassa.

Assistant State Attorney Peter Magrino then produced five 8- by 10-inch photographs never before seen by the public.

The first image showed Jessica, wrapped in the trash bags, sitting in the 4-foot-deep hole. The second and third were closer images of her encased body taken at the Medical Examiner's Office.

Magrino held them chest high as he walked them in front of the jury.

"The two flesh colored items depicted in the photograph, what were they?" Magrino asked Holder.

He replied, "They were the right index and middle finger of the victim."

A bailiff had put an extra box of tissues in the jury box just before the photos were shown. A few jurors reached for them and dabbed the corner of their eyes.

Jessica's father, Mark, cried silently in the audience, bowing his head to his hands. Behind him, Jessica's grandfather, Archie Lunsford, sobbed.

The most graphic photos were still to come. Circuit Judge Ric Howard ordered the television crews to turn the cameras away out of respect for the family.

The last two images were seen only by the jury. A handful of reporters were permitted by the judge to view them at the end of the day. Two left the room crying.

When Magrino held up the photos for the jurors, he didn't let them linger in the air.

He didn't need to.

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


Friday in court

Defense attorneys started the day by asking for a mistrial after a hotel worker approached a juror and said in Spanish, "He did it. He did it." Howard allowed the juror to stay. The incident was quickly forgotten as prosecutors laid out the bulk of their physical evidence in the case. Testimony and photos about Jessica's exhumed body dominated the day.

Surprises: Prosecutors showed jurors five photographs the public had not seen of Jessica's body being removed from the shallow grave behind Couey's mobile home. They were incredibly graphic in nature and shielded from media cameras.

Quote: "What was poking through the two holes?" asked prosecutor Peter Magrino, holding up the plastic trash bags that encased Jessica Lunsford in her shallow grave.

What's next: The trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. Monday. Prosecutors have two more days of testimony and witnesses to present, including a DNA expert to identify the blood and semen found on Couey's mattress.