Tuesday, July 17, 2007
INVERNESS, Fla. — The man convicted of kidnapping and raping 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford before swaddling her in garbage bags and burying her alive in his yard was likely faking mentally retardation in earlier tests, a court-appointed psychologist said Tuesday.
John Evander Couey, 48, who spent part of his murder trial earlier this year drawing in coloring books, “is not mentally retarded,” clinical psychologist Gregory Prichard testified at a pre-sentencing hearing Tuesday. Prichard said the convicted killer has an IQ of 78, slightly above the 70 level generally considered retarded.
At the end of Tuesday’s seven-hour pre-sentencing hearing, Jessica’s father, Mark Lunsford, took the witness stand and spoke directly to the man convicted of killing his daughter.
“I hope you hear her cries as you try to sleep at night,” Lunsford said, wiping tears. “I hope you see the tears run down her face as she asked you to go home. I hope you spend the rest of your life in fear of death. You will never hurt another child.”
Lunsford then asked Circuit Judge Richard Howard to sentence Couey to death.
Sentencing has tentatively been set for Aug. 10.
Howard must first weigh the prosecution and defense arguments on Couey’s mental competence. A 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibits the execution of mentally retarded people.
During more than six hours of testimony, Prichard said it is easier to fake mental retardation than intelligence. He said standardized tests and interviews showed Couey was intelligent enough to manage money, take care of himself and even keep secrets.
Assistant Public Defender Daniel Lewan spent most of the hearing hours challenging Prichard’s assessment. Lewan said other experts have shown Couey is mildly retarded with an IQ of 64. He asked the judge to rely on the earlier testimony.
Lewan is trying to get a life sentence. Prosecutors want Couey executed.
In March, a Miami jury brushed aside Lewan’s pleas for mercy, voting 10-2 to recommend that Couey be executed for Jessica’s slaying. Florida law puts the final sentencing decision in the hands of a judge, who must give great weight to a jury recommendation.
The jury convicted Couey of taking Jessica in February 2005 from her bedroom to his nearby trailer, where he raped her and buried her alive. Despite a massive search, the third-grader’s body was found about three weeks after she disappeared in a grave in Couey’s yard, about 150 yards from her own home.
Couey, already a convicted sex offender when he committed the crime, was arrested in Georgia and confessed to the killing. That confession was thrown out as evidence because Couey did not have a lawyer present.
The trial was moved to Miami because of intense media coverage in Citrus County.