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Couey decision brings 'sigh of relief'

In Homosassa, where Jessica Lunsford lived, residents are relieved and ready to move on.

By EDDY RAMIREZ
Published March 16, 2007


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HOMOSASSA - A day after a jury recommended the death penalty for the man who killed Jessica Lunsford, there were no cries of joy or triumph in Homosassa.

There were no new visitors outside her grandparents' house or fresh flowers added to her memorial at Cardinal Street and Sonata Avenue.

There was only quiet acknowledgement that justice had been served.

People here were relieved and grateful that a jury in Miami had reached the same conclusion that they had reached two years ago: John Couey must be put to death.

Perhaps that's why the conversation at Emily's Restaurant, where Couey was once a cook, centered on family and work and an upcoming race for cancer survivors.

"It's a shame," is how Chris Friend, a server, summed up her reaction to the outcome. The restaurant has been flooded with reporters and TV news crews since the jury returned its guilty verdicts.

At Homosassa Elementary, Jessica's school, principal Regina Allegretta said she had no time to entertain a reporter's questions about the case. She tended to a small crisis on a school bus instead.

One parent outside the school had no idea that a jury had recommended the death penalty. And she didn't seem too interested, either.

"Oh," is all she said.

The streets were quiet in the neighborhood where Jessica lived.

Carolyn Harless, who lives a few doors from the Lunsford home, has followed the case closely the past two years. She watched Wednesday's proceedings on television.

But Thursday she didn't want to discuss it at length with a reporter.

"I just want to forget about it," she said. "I'm happy that it is over."

The Rev. LaVerle Coats of Faith Baptist Church, where Jessica and her family attended services, thinks he understands the lack of emotional outbursts after the sentencing recommendation.

"Our community has been aroused by this terrible crime, and it has been an upset community for the last two years," he said. "It's the topic of conversation. Now the conversation will change."

The pastor said that, nonetheless, people at a church gathering Wednesday night expressed support for the jury's recommendation. The judge will sentence Couey later, in Inverness.

"It brought a sigh of relief for all of us just to have some finality here," he said.

Dave Richardson, who lives in Jessica's neighborhood, said he doesn't think people will ever forget.

"I'll always remember the tragedy that happened next door to where I live," he said.

Richardson, 75, a retired machinist from Michigan and a veteran of the Korea War, lives across the street from where Jessica's body was found.

He met Couey on two occasions. Once, Couey knocked on his door and used his telephone to call his sister, Dorothy Dixon. Another time, Couey used Richardson's phone to call a cab when his truck broke down.

Richardson also knows Archie Lunsford, Jessica's grandfather. He never talked to Jessica but saw her outside riding a bicycle.

For Richardson, the memory of her tragic death will linger forever. Even if Couey is put to death, which he doesn't believe will happen soon, he doesn't think the community can ever get over the tragedy.

"I don't know what closure is," he said when asked whether the death penalty could provide closure for people. "As long as you have a good memory, there's no closure."

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at 860-7305 or eramirez@sptimes.com

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 22:30:12]


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