Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jessica Lunsford, Death of a 9-Year-Old

'I Didn't Mean to Kill Her'

John Couey in court
John Couey in court

On April 1, 2005, a grand jury indicted John Couey on charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, sexual battery, and burglary. The various charges against his housemates were dropped. Five days later Couey appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to the charges. The state declared that it would be seeking the death penalty in this case. Couey was sent back to the county jail and held without bail.

Couey was isolated from other inmates at the Citrus County jail and kept on suicide watch. His guards reported that he spent much of his time reading Christian religious material, but not the Bible itself, and keeping a journal.

On the night of March 5, 2006, over a year after Jessica Lunsford's murder, two corrections officers were making small talk in the vicinity of Couey's cell. A television set was on, and neither guard thought that Couey could overhear their conversation. As they were talking, Kenneth Slanker, the guard charged with watching Couey, asked the other guard, Sheri Johnson, about her family and asked why she wouldn't let her children go to a day-care center.

Johnson said she was afraid of what might happen at a day-care center and pointed toward Couey.

After Johnson left to attend to other duties, Couey called Slanker over to his cell. Couey said that he had overheard their conversation and that his feelings were hurt.

According to Slanker's sworn statement, Couey said, "I don't appreciate people talking about me like that. I didn't mean to do what I did. I didn't mean to kill her... I never saw myself as someone who could do something like this."

Despite his not-guilty plea, Couey once again admitted to killing Jessica Lunsford.


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