Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Life for Child Molestors

Bill would give molesters life on 2nd offense

Associated Press
Tuesday, January 8, 2008

TALLAHASSEE — A legislative panel stood and applauded the father of 9-year-old-murder victim Jessica Lunsford on Tuesday before approving a bill he said would have prevented her death.

Mark Lunsford, sometimes pausing to choke back tears, spoke on behalf of the measure (HB 85) that would send child molesters 18 years or older to prison for life if convicted more than once of molesting a child under 12.

"If John Evander Couey would have got life for his second offense, I wouldn't have spent Christmas alone," Lunsford said.

Couey, 49, was sentenced to death last year for kidnapping Lunsford's daughter, raping her and burying her alive in his yard.

Couey, already a convicted sex offender, took the girl in February 2005 from her bedroom to his nearby trailer in Homasassa. Her body was found some three weeks later in a grave about 150 yards from her home in the Citrus County community.

The bill unanimously cleared the House Budget and Policy Council after lawmakers and the audience gave Lunsford a standing ovation. It next will go to the House floor after the Legislature convenes its regular annual session in March. An identical Senate bill (SB 496) has not yet had a committee hearing.

The measure adds the harsher penalty to the Jessica Lunsford Act lawmakers passed in 2005.

It includes tougher penalties for sex crimes against children and requires lifetime electronic monitoring for sex offenders who target children once released from prison. Another provision requires fingerprinting and background checks for contractors, vendors, sports referees and others who regularly go onto school property. Those convicted of certain crimes are barred from schools and their grounds.

The existing law already requires a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison and permits a maximum of life for a first or subsequent offense for intentionally touching the breasts, general area of buttocks of a child in a lewd or lascivious manner.

Lunsford said many victims are psychologically scarred by such crimes.

"Which child has it the worst, one that survives or the one that dies?" he said. "No one will every hurt my daughter again. ... What about these kids who survive?"

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Dick Kravitz, R-Jacksonville, called child molesters "subhuman" and research has shown they cannot be cured because they have a natural desire for children.

"If that's your natural sex drive you're never ever going to stop offending," he said.

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