Jessica Lunsford, Death of a 9-Year-Old
Change of Venue
Finding suitable potential jurors proved to be more difficult than anyone had anticipated. By July 13, fifty-eight prospective jurors had been selected, but Judge Howard suddenly decided that an impartial jury could not be assembled in the Fifth District in a timely manner, and he cancelled further jury selection. Some potential jurors reported that they had been threatened with physical harm if they eventually got on the jury and did not find Couey guilty. Also, several expert witnesses scheduled to testify at the trial would not be able to fit a delayed trial into their schedules, so the judge decided that a change of venue would be the best solution. Moving the trial to the small town of Tavares in Lake County was considered, but ultimately it was decided that John Couey would be tried at the other end of the state in Miami-Dade County on February 12, 2007.
There was a possibility that the change of venue could help Couey's case. Urban jurors are generally considered more sympathetic to the defense, but as the St. Petersburg Times pointed out, serial killer Ted Bundy's trial for the murders of two Florida State University coeds had been moved from Tallahassee to Miami, and the Miami jury found Bundy guilty and sentenced him to death.
In the meantime, Mark Lunsford continued his lobbying efforts to bolster laws that will protect children from sex offenders. He organized a group of bikers, Jesse's Riders, who wear matching leather jackets and baseball caps in memory of his daughter. He also has an image of Jessica's face tattooed to his chest. He told the St. Petersburg Times that he preferred to have his daughter's picture on his skin rather than in a paper photograph. "I can still touch her face now," he said. "It's the flesh that she came from."