Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jessica Lunsford, Death of a 9-Year-Old

The Autopsy

The details of Couey's confession were immediately relayed to the authorities in Homosassa, and shortly after midnight on Saturday, March 19, a team of investigators arrived at Couey's half-sister's trailer on Snowbird Court. They located a shallow grave where Couey had said it would be. Jessica's clothed body was found inside two tied plastic garbage bags. Her wrists were bound, but she had managed to poke two fingers through the plastic in an attempt to free herself. When the bags were completely removed, investigators saw that she had died clutching her prized purple dolphin.

Her body was transported to the morgue in Leesburg, Florida, where Dr. Steven Cogswell, Medical Examiner for the Fifth Judicial District, performed an autopsy. In unwrapping Jessica's body, Dr. Cogswell noted that she had been placed feet first into the first garbage bag, head first into the second. There was no indication that she had tried to kick through the bags. Both bags were securely knotted, and in all likelihood the cause of death was suffocation, which he believed took from 3 to 5 minutes.

Dr. Steven Cogswell, Medical Examiner for the Fifth Judicial District
Dr. Steven Cogswell, Medical Examiner
for the Fifth Judicial District

Dr. Cogswell reported that the body was in a state of "medium decomposition."  Though he could not pinpoint the time of death, the degree of decomposition suggested that she had died about three weeks earlier.

Her fingernails had been painted with peach-colored nail polish, and the two exposed fingers were partially mummified. The fact that she was able to claw through the bag indicated that Jessica was alive when she was buried. 

Dr. Cogswell found vaginal lacerations at the six o'clock position, which indicated sexual assault. He estimated that these lacerations had occurred "probably not more than six hours prior to death."

Jessica's gastro-intestinal tract was "basically empty."  Dr. Cogswell estimated that the last time she ate was between "twelve hours and three to four days before death."

Traces of cocaine were found on her body. She had not ingested cocaine herself but had been "in an environment" where crack cocaine had been smoked.


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