Jessica Lunsford, Death of a 9-Year-Old
Confession Thrown Out
In the spring of 2006 as Couey's trial date approached, Judge Ric Howard of the Fifth Judicial Circuit faced the daunting task of finding a fair and impartial jury. The case had received extensive national and regional media attention, and it would be virtually impossible to find a panel of jurors who hadn't heard anything about the rape and murder of Jessica Lunsford. Nevertheless, Judge Howard did think he could find jurors who had not already formed an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of John Couey, but he decided to avoid residents of the Homosassa area where the crime had occurred. Instead he ordered that the jury pool be made up of residents of Lake County, which is the farthest community from Homosassa in the Fifth District. Judge Howard's plan was to transport those selected to serve on the jury to his courtroom in Inverness and have them live in an unnamed motel for the length of the trial.
In June Judge Howard heard pretrial testimony regarding the investigation of Couey and ruled that Couey's confession to Detectives Grace and Achison in Augusta had to be thrown out because Couey's rights had been violated when the detectives did not comply with his repeated requests for legal representation. While the judge's ruling did not torpedo the state's case against Couey, it did deal the prosecution a serious blow.