Child killer John Couey dies

October 1st, 2009 by

JACKSONVILLE, FL — John Couey, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Jessica Lunsford, died of cancer in Jacksonville Wednesday.

Citrus County spokeswoman Gail Tierney confirmed his death Wednesday afternoon.

Jessica’s grandmother, Ruthie Lunsford told ABC Action News, “I’m on top of the world. Some people don’t understand the way that I feel, but I’m not crying.”

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said 51-year-old Couey had been ill for some time. He died at Jacksonville Memorial Hospital, where he had been since August 12.

Ruth Lunsford said state officials told her Couey died from cancer and had a painful end to his life. “I can’t feel bad about him having to suffer with cancer,” Lunsford said, “He didn’t have no mercy on my granddaughter. He made her suffer… God’s taken care of him in his own way.”

9-year-old Jessica Lunsford was taken from her bedroom on February 24, 2005. She was found about 150 yards from the home she shared with her father and her grandparents.

Couey told investigators he kept Jessica in a closet for several days before burying her alive in a shallow grave outside the trailer he lived in, which was within sight of her own home. Investigators say she had been sexually battered.

Couey was convicted of murder, kidnapping, sexual battery, and burglary. He was sentenced to death in March 2007.

The crime prompted many states to pass laws named for Jessica that impose restrictions on sex offenders, including registration requirements. Florida’s version bans them and others convicted of serious crimes from school grounds.

Jessica’s father, Mark Lunsford, became a nationally known child advocate after his daughter’s death. He has campaigned across the country on behalf of tougher laws for child predators. Couey was a convicted sex offender who had been released from prison.

On the death of John Couey today, Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy had this to say: “I believe Jessica Lunsford and her family saw justice today with the news of John Couey’s passing, as confirmed by state prison officials. I wish he could have paid his debt to society and that smiling girl in the pink hat by facing the sentence passed down to him by his jurors, but that isn’t going to happen.My understanding is that John Couey died from a terminal illness but whatever the case, I know he didn’t suffer the way Jessie did when he killed her.”

“I’m sorry I won’t get to look him in the eyes as he died, but I’m relieved to know he’ll never hurt another child again. To the Lunsford family I say this: I hope you can close this terrible chapter in your lives and take some comfort in knowing Jessie’s killer is dead.To those in my agency, I say again, thanks for doing everything you could to bring Jessie home.And to those in the community I say, take heart. The killer who lived among us will no longer breathe the same air that we do.”

Stay tuned to ABC Action News and for the latest.

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