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Fla. police say suspect confessed to slaying

Told authorities where to find body of girl, 9

HOMOSASSA, Fla. -- A registered sex offender admitted yesterday that he kidnapped and killed a 9-year-old girl who disappeared from her bedroom more than three weeks ago, and he told police where they could find her body, authorities said.

John Evander Couey, 46, had been arrested Thursday and named a ''person of interest" in Jessica Lunsford's disappearance. He confessed to authorities after taking a lie-detector test, Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy said.

''At the end of the polygraph, he said: 'You don't have to tell me the results. I know what they are,' " Dawsy said. ''He apologized to the investigators for wasting their time."

Authorities cordoned off an area yesterday near the home of Couey's half sister, who lived about 150 yards from the home Jessica shared with her father and grandparents. Dawsy would not comment on what investigators were doing in the area. Police had yet to recover a body.

A sheriff's spokeswoman who answered the phone at the Lunsford home last night said the family declined to comment. Jessica's father, Mark, has said the family did not know Couey.

Jessica's stepfather, Lonnie Bryant, said by telephone from Ohio that he and the girl's mother, Angela Bryant, planned to come to Florida soon. ''I'm going through agony right now," he said.

Jessica, a third-grader, was last seen when she went to bed in her home Feb. 23. More than 100 police and volunteers, with help from bloodhounds and helicopters, searched the area about 60 miles north of Tampa for days.

Detectives grew interested in Couey while interviewing all registered sex offenders in the area. When investigators followed up with the half sister, she denied that Couey had lived with her. But a relative confided to a detective that Couey sometimes stayed at the home.

He was arrested in Augusta, Ga., on a probation violation for failing to notify officials that he was moving, police said. He was awaiting extradition yesterday.

Couey's criminal record includes 24 arrests for burglary, carrying a concealed weapon, and indecent exposure. In 1991, he was arrested in Kissimmee on a charge of fondling a child under age 16. Records don't show how the case was resolved.

Couey was accused of attacking a girl during a house burglary in 1978, Dawsy said. Couey was sentenced to 10 years but was paroled in 1980.

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