Moments ago, the Miami jury returned their verdict against John Evander Couey, convicted last week in the kidnapping, rape and murder of Jessica Lunsford. Deliberating only one hour, the jury recommends that John Couey be sentenced to death.
From this point, Couey’s early fate resides in the hands of Circuit Judge Richard Howard. He will take the jury’s recommendation, weigh same against their deliberations, their views of the evidence presented in the case. Barring finding any fault in the jury’s arrival at their recommendation of death, it is highly likely the judge will agree and so rule.
It is likely that Couey’s defense team will present a post trial motion again claiming Couey’s mental inabilities. If they do, the judge will need to consider this first before ruling upon the jury’s sentencing recommendation. To do this, the court will appoint two mental health experts, who will review the case, interview Couey and report their findings to the court as to Couey’s mental status. If the judge — vis-a-vis the expert reports — finds that Couey is, indeed, mentally retarded (i.e., IQ below 70, as well as failing several other tests, including whether or not he is a functional person, cares for himself, arrives at independent decisions, etc.), he must deny the death penalty recommendation and Couey to life, without parole, in accordance with Florida law. If the experts find Couey not mentally incapacitated, the death penalty may stand.
It seems highly unlikely that Couey’s defense can ever overcome the wealth of evidence that has been presented to offset claims of mental incapacity.
In housekeeping before the verdict was announced, Couey signed an Agreed Stipulation for Change of Venue, allowing his case to return to Citrus County where it began and where Jessica was murdered. If you will recall, Couey’s trial was changed early on from Citrus to Miami-Dade, due to pretrial publicity that corrupted the jury pool there. With the trial concluded, the matter goes back home.
Judge Howard set a hearing date for March 22 to receive the matter back into Citrus County, where he will render his final sentencing decision.
Here is breaking coverage out of Florida:
The ultimate result of today’s jury recommendations will be at least a couple of weeks away, I feel.