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Jessica Lunsford’s Killer Dies in Local Hospital

The man who abducted and buried alive 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, spurring a host of tougher sex predator laws nationwide, died Wednesday morning of natural causes.

Gretl Plessinger, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman, said the death was not a surprise, but that she couldn't divulge details about John Couey's illness because of health privacy laws.

Couey's abduction, rape and murder of Lunsford prompted several states to write more stringent laws governing sexual predators that included sex offender registries and harsher penalties for offenders, such as more extensive limits on where they can live. In April 2005, the Florida Legislature unanimously passed the Jessica Lunsford Act, which carried a life-long penalty for offenders whose victims were under 12-years-old and required careful analysis of released offenders who were considered at-risk to attack again.

In February 2005, Mark Lunsford reported that his 9-year-old daughter was missing. It was later discovered that the Lunsfords' neighbor, Couey, had abducted and raped the girl, and ultimately buried her alive in a shallow grave near his mobile home.

“Maybe he should have been tossed in a plastic bag and put in a dirt hole,” Nancy Argenziano, a former state lawmaker who sponsored the Jessica Lunsford Act in 2005, said Wednesday.

Couey was found guilty by a Miami jury in 2007 and sentenced to death shortly thereafter. He had spent most of his trial drawing in coloring books and was considered mentally disabled.

His initial confession to the crime had actually been thrown out because it had been made without the presence of a lawyer. However, prison guards' testimony about Couey and physical evidence were enough for a jury to convict him.

His automatic appeal to the Florida Supreme Court was slated for November.

Argenziano, who represented the area where Lunsford lived, said she had little remorse for Couey, but that the legislation she sponsored remains one of the most important policies she worked on as a lawmaker.

“I guess my reaction is that all I can think about is a little girl being dragged out of her bed, being sexually abused by this pig and being put in garbage bags and dumped in a hole and buried alive, and that's going to remain with me for the rest of my life,” she said.

Sex offender laws have come under some criticism though for targeting people who have become rehabilitated but still face the stigma of sex offender. Other problems have arisen out of “Romeo and Juliet” relationships, where both parties were teenagers, but one was not old enough by law to have consensual sex.

Argenziano said lawmakers need to continuously review the sex offender statutes particularly if they are harming innocent people in “Romeo and Juliet” type situations. However, she thinks for the most part, the law has been effective in deterring some potential offenders from committing a crime.

“If you are convicted of this kind of crime, you are going to go away and possibly for life,” she said.

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