Another blow to the Jessica Lunsford case

Friday, July 07, 2006

Jury won't hear about old assault
INVERNESS - (AP) -- Details of a decades-old assault charge involving a 12-year-old girl can't be used against John Couey when he stands trial on charges of kidnapping, raping and killing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford last year, a judge ruled Thursday.
Prosecutor Ric Ridgway wanted to use the home burglary and attack to show a pattern of behavior against girls.
But Circuit Judge Ric Howard said the earlier case included physical contact but no sexual molestation, so it isn't admissible to show jurors that Couey had behaved similarly in the past. ''We're disappointed any time we lose evidence,'' Ridgway said.
Couey was 19 in 1978 when he was accused of burglarizing a Crystal River home, entering the bedroom of a girl, placing his hand over her mouth and kissing her, according to court records. The state didn't file charges because Couey was sentenced to a 10-year prison term for violating probation.
It was the second loss in a week for prosecutors seeking the death penalty for the 47-year-old Couey. On Friday, Howard ruled that Couey's taped confession was inadmissible at trial because he had repeatedly asked for an attorney while detectives were questioning him.
But prosecutors say they have enough evidence to convict him, with subsequent statements by Couey and other evidence, including the girl's body buried in his backyard and her DNA and fingerprints inside the trailer where he lived.
Couey is charged with first-degree murder, sexual battery, kidnapping and burglary. He has pleaded not guilty.
Jury selection begins Monday in Tavares near Orlando. Howard moved it there after agreeing with attorneys that a fair jury couldn't be picked in Citrus County because of the publicity.
The trial will move back to Inverness after the jury is seated.
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