Every story about child murder has a terrible, burning question behind it: how could we, as a society, let this happen? Of course, it’s all the perpetrators’ fault, and they have no excuse, and no redemption can be gained for them.

But there are so many points at which they could be stopped but never are until it’s too late. So many child abusers are even repeated offenders. How could they have been given a chance in the first place?

With every new tragedy, we learn about the limits regarding the prevention methods that are in place. In the case of Jessica Lunsford, we learned about those limits too late.

She was a little girl in Florida who was killed unimaginably, and the fallout from her death sparked a nationwide outrage that led to the implementation of a new act of law that bore her name.

Unfortunately, the only way she could be saved happened after she died, and she is remembered in that terrible way as a result.


10 /10 Just A Little Girl

Jessica Marie Lunsford was born in 1995 to her parents Mark Lunsford and Angela Bryant. Her father was a truck driver who, at some point, divorced her mother but stayed very active in her life.

Jessica was well-liked by everyone in her community. She regularly attended Bible studies, where she started learning sign language.

9 /10 Gone

Jessica’s disappearance was discovered the morning after her abduction when her father noticed her alarm continued ringing. He was with his girlfriend at the time the previous night and only came back that same day.

According to Jessica’s grandparents, they put her to bed with who she was staying, and all things were right last night. But Jessica wasn’t there.

8 /10 Long Search

The search lasted for three weeks. Each day Jessica wasn’t found caused untold stress and horror for her family and for the concerned nation who watched from their homes.

The case gained massive traction through the media. Finally, a 9-year-old girl was just taken from her own home with no signs of struggle. Wild theories erupted as the media rapidly circulated the terrifying story.


7 /10 Out Of State

Authorities learned of one missing piece to the gruesome puzzle, a nearby resident to the Lunsford home where Jessica was taken been absent, and found in Augusta, Georgia.

John Couey, a sex offender and convict of many small-term crimes, had a warrant out over cannabis possession.

His lengthy criminal background, including break-in burglaries and trespassing, made him a prime suspect, but he denied allegations and was released from questioning.


6 /10 The Evidence

Couey admitted he knew about Jessica’s disappearance only through the media and that he moved out of Georgia to find a job.

Authorities put more pressure on his former residence, which was occupied by Couey’s half-sister Dorothy Dixon and her family, to investigate the grounds.

Couey once lived with her and her kids and boyfriend and had his room. Dixon claimed that she never saw any little girl and that his room hadn’t been used since he left after receiving some bus money.

That was where authorities found blood stains on the mattress, which confirmed that the DNA belonged to Jessica.

5 /10 Hard Proof

They also found her body. A small patch of dirt in the yard of the trailer was dug up. Jessica was discovered in two plastic garbage bags covering her body, clutching a toy dolphin her father won for her at a carnival.

She had been raped, but her cause of death was suffocation. She was buried alive. Couey was charged with murder and transported down to Florida.


4 /10 Confession

Couey confessed to the crime after being apprehended, which went against his prior claims. He saw Jessica playing in her yard across the way and thought she was even younger, which makes his decisions far worse.

He decided to burglarize the Lunsford home at first and entered through an unlocked door. Then he spontaneously decided to take her instead.

He re-entered his own house with Jessica following behind him, where he proceeded to abuse her on his bed, then locked her in the closet while he went to work.

Three days later, while the search was underway, he told her to get into the bags, and he would take her home, then threw her in a hole and buried her.

3 /10 To Court

Couey’s confession was made off the books. He wasn’t given access to a lawyer under Constitutional obligation, so his own words were not considered evidence despite his clear admission to the crime.

However, the rest of the evidence gathered was, as were incriminating statements of witnesses and a jail guard present for Couey’s confession. The trial had to be moved to Miami after the county court failed to assemble an impartial jury.

2 /10 Untenable Defense

Couey’s attorney’s defense for his client was not to go against the gathered evidence but to ultimately try to plead down from the death penalty by claiming Couey was mentally challenged and incapable of making a sound or rational decisions.

While Couey did have below-average intelligence, it was still regarded above the level required for mental retardation

The jury ultimately sided with the death penalty. Two years after his conviction, he died of natural causes at 50 years old.


1 /10 Jessica's Law

Unsatisfied with merely seeing his daughter’s killer behind bars for life, Mark Lunsford continued his campaigning efforts, even going as far as to sue the state for ineffective handling of Couey’s previous convictions to enact a new law act.

Jessica’s Law was passed shortly after her death which required tighter restrictions for sex offenders, such as electronic tracking to monitor their movements and longer sentences in prison, so they had less time to get out.

The fact that she was just a hundred yards from her home for three days and still wasn’t found continued to shock the nation with how easy it was to let a little girl die.

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