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Evidence places Jessica in Couey's bedroom

By JOHN FRANK
Published March 6, 2007


MIAMI - Prosecutors' case against John Couey isn't taking long. Still, they believe the evidence is overwhelming.

They intend to wrap up their case against the 48-year-old sex offender today with testimony from the medical examiner and three Citrus County jail guards.

Couey allegedly told the guards that he didn't mean to kill Jessica Lunsford, according to court documents. Their statements are vital to the case after Couey's initial confession was ruled inadmissible last year.

The testimony comes on Day 4 of the prosecutors' case.

On Monday, forensic expert after forensic expert took the stand to tell jurors about the mounds of evidence linking Couey to the kidnap, rape and murder of Jessica.

For the first time, her mother, Angela Bryant, appeared in court. She sat behind Archie and Ruth Lunsford, Jessica's paternal grandparents, in the back of the courtroom.

Bryant and Mark Lunsford split a year after Jessica's birth, and Mark got custody of the girl. Jessica's mother was not a presence in her life, and when she vanished, it took authorities a couple of days to locate her.

"It's important she's here," Mark Lunsford said outside the courthouse. "She's still her daughter."

He said it was difficult for both of them to hear the physical evidence telling a story about Jessica's final hours.

There were fingerprints. Jessica's left thumb and Couey's two index fingers stamped on an old pizza box discovered in Couey's bedroom closet. A glass table in the bedroom produced more matches.

There was DNA. Inside Couey's closet, Jessica's DNA. On his mattress and two throw pillows, bloodstains were matched to the 9-year-old Homosassa girl.

State crime analyst Roshale Gaytmenn testified that one spot near a corner of the yellowed mattress tested positive for a mixture of Jessica's blood and Couey's semen.

"The basic point of today was Jessica Lunsford's fingerprints in the bedroom John Couey occupied," said Brad King, state attorney for the 5th Judicial Circuit. "It pretty much ties the two together."

Defense attorneys mounted a solid challenge to the testimony, forcing state fingerprint analyst Wesley Zackery to acknowledge that six other prints found on the cardboard box were never tested.

Assistant Public Defender Daniel Lewan, during an unusually long cross-examination, also made Gaytmenn concede that Jessica's blood and Couey's semen might have been left on the mattress at different times.

Under further defense questioning, she acknowledged that unknown DNA samples from the pillows were never analyzed.

Defense attorneys also are expected to aggressively counter testimony from jail guards.

Lewan said in court papers that guards used interrogation techniques to get Couey to make incriminating statements.

 

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

Fast Facts:

 

In court Monday

Prosecutors piled high the mounds of physical evidence connecting John Couey and Jessica Lunsford. Her fingerprints were found on a cardboard box in Couey's closet and on a glass table in his bedroom. Her DNA was also found on his mattress and pillows.

Surprise: Jessica's mother, Angela Bryant, makes her first appearance in court. She and Mark Lunsford divorced when Jessica was a year old.

Quote: "It's important she's here. She's still her daughter." - Mark Lunsford on the arrival of Jessica's mother in court.

What's next: Prosecutors could conclude their case today with testimony from the medical examiner and three Citrus County jail guards who allegedly heard Couey make incriminating statements.