Couey trial begins today in Miami

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 1:39 a.m.
MIAMI - A jury was seated Wednesday for the trial of the man charged with murdering 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford after more than two weeks of painstaking jury selection.
Six men and six women were chosen for the jury along with three male alternates to hear the case against John Evander Couey, who is accused of abducting Jessica in 2005 from her Citrus County bedroom, raping her and then burying her in trash bags while still alive.
Couey, a 48-year-old prior sex offender, has pleaded not guilty and could get the death penalty if convicted.
The case was moved to Miami from Citrus County because heavy media coverage made it impossible to select an unbiased jury in the local area. Even some 300 miles away, more than 280 potential jurors were questioned before the final group was chosen.
Opening statements were scheduled to begin today and jurors were told to expect the trial to last two or three weeks. The jurors will be sequestered at a Miami hotel to limit their contact to media coverage and their names are being withheld on orders of Citrus County Circuit Judge Ric Howard, who is presiding in Miami over the case. During questioning Wednesday of the final group of potential jurors, prosecutors repeatedly stressed the difficulty of reaching a decision on the death penalty and asked if jurors could set aside any biases they might have regarding capital punishment.
''This is about real life and, in fact, real death,'' said prosecutor Peter Magrino. ''This is not like television.'' One male juror said his reaction was ''wow'' when he found out he had been summoned for a death penalty case. A woman said she thought ''I just hope I can do the right thing.''
One of Couey's defense lawyers, Alan Fanter, urged jurors to listen carefully to the evidence and not form any preconceived notions about the case.
''It's very important that you can all keep an open mind. Anybody got any problems with that?'' he said.
The Lunsford killing sparked major reforms in Florida and at least 18 other states that toughened penalties on sex offenders, particularly those whose victims were children, and improved methods of keeping track of their whereabouts. Authorities were unaware that Couey was living only a few hundred yards from the Lunsford home because he had not informed them as required.

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