Couey's statements may be thrown out


Published: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 11:59 p.m.

INVERNESS — Attorneys for the man accused of kidnapping, raping and killing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford asked a judge Friday to suppress incriminating statements by the defendant as evidence in his murder trial.

Circuit Judge Ric Howard did not rule immediately and said he would read case law presented at the hearing and give his decision Monday.

John Evander Couey's trial will be moved to Miami and will begin with jury selection on Feb. 12. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, sexual battery on a child, kidnapping and burglary in the girl's death.

Howard had previously thrown out the main taped confession that 48-year-old Couey gave because investigators ignored his requests for a lawyer. The statements Howard will rule on involve unrecorded comments Couey gave to Orlando police after he was arrested in March 2005. They asked Couey about the 1985 murder of 15-year-old Regina Armstrong because he had grown up near Orlando.

Assistant Public Defender Dan Lewan said the cases are different, but the statements could be used in the Lunsford case against his client.

The two Orlando Police Department detectives who interviewed Couey testified Friday at the hearing.

Detective Joel Wright testified that Couey told him: "I wish I could help you, but I can't ... If I did it I would tell you, they can only kill me once."

Lewan said that the questioning violated Couey's right to an attorney and his right to remain silent. Prosecutors argued that those rights didn't apply to questioning in cases unrelated to Jessica's.

"These are some of the bedrock cases defining this issue," Howard said.

Prosecutors have said they were confident physical evidence would be enough to convict Couey and secure a death sentence. Authorities found Jessica's body after Couey told them where to look.

Her body was found in March 2005, about a month after she disappeared from her Homosassa home near where Couey lived.

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