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Archive for Friday, July 14, 2006

Judge stops effort to seat jury in murder trial

July 14, 2006

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— The judge halted jury selection Thursday in the trial of a sex offender accused of kidnapping 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford and burying her alive, saying it was difficult to find jurors who hadn't been exposed to media reports or other discussions of the case.

Circuit Judge Ric Howard had already moved jury selection to Lake County, about 50 miles east of Homosassa, where Jessica lived and was killed, because of publicity surrounding the case.

On Thursday, after attorneys had spent three days trying to find jurors who hadn't been exposed to news reports about the case, Howard declared they were still too close to find an impartial jury and said the case has to be moved farther away.

It wasn't clear if Howard would shift only jury selection or move the entire trial outside the central Florida judicial circuit where the proceedings are currently unfolding.

John Evander Couey, 47, has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, sexual battery on a child, kidnapping and burglary in the girl's death.

Jessica's body was found about a month after she disappeared from her home near the mobile home where Couey had been living. Her hands were tied with speaker wire and her fingers poked through the garbage bags in which authorities say she was buried alive.

Couey's taped confession and other details of the case received national media coverage. According to court records, Couey told investigators he took the girl from her room, raped her, swaddled her in garbage bags and buried her in the yard.

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