Jessica Lunsford, Death of a 9-Year-Old
'He Will Pay'
On Sunday, March 20, John Couey was booked into the Citrus County jail in Lecanto, Florida, and put on suicide watch. Three of his housemates—Dorothy Dixon, Madie Secord, and Matthew Dittrich—were charged with obstruction of justice for lying to the police. The fourth housemate, Gene Secord, who had not been at the house when detectives came by looking for Couey, was charged with failure to pay child support. The citizens of Homosassa were outraged, and everyone who had followed the case demanded justice.
"He will pay," Jessica's mother, Angela Bryant, told CNN after she learned that John Couey had confessed to killing her daughter. "He will pay for hurting those children out there and my daughter... He deserves everything he gets coming to him."
Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, vacillated between vengeance and sorrow. "She's home now," he told the St. Petersburg Times, his voice breaking. But when later interviewed by CNN, he looked into the camera and spoke directly to Couey: "I hope you rot in hell," Lunsford said, "I hope you get the death penalty."
Lunsford knew something had to be done to protect other children from sexual predators, like Couey. In the weeks after Jessica's body was found, he lobbied the Florida state legislature to enact tougher laws. With the help of Representatives Charlie Dean and Nancy Argenziano, a bill was written that would require increased prison sentences, electronic tracking of all convicted sex offenders on probation, and the mandatory use of state databases by all local probation officials so that known sex offenders could not avoid the scrutiny of law enforcement. The Jessica Lunsford Act was quickly approved and signed into law by Governor Jeb Bush on May 2, 2005. The law took effect on September 1.