North Carolina's governor signed a bill Monday that establishes a minimum 25-year sentence for sex offenders in honor of Jessica Lunsford, the girl who was raped and killed by a convicted sex offender in Citrus County.
Her father, Mark Lunsford, who has lobbied states across the country to approve similar measures to protect children from dangerous child predators, was present at the bill signing.
Nine-year-old Jessica, a third-grader from Homosassa, was kidnapped from her room in the middle of the night in February 2005 by a convicted sex offender living nearby.
The suspect, John Couey, was arrested in March 2005. Citrus County investigators found her body behind Couey's residence. She had been raped, placed in a plastic garbage bag and buried.
Couey was sentenced to death in August 2007 for murder and given four consecutive life sentences on charges of burglary, kidnapping and sexual battery.
Jessica's father created the Jessica Marie Lunsford Foundation to increase public awareness and push for tougher laws against sex offenders. Since her death, more than 30 states have enacted Jessica's Laws.
Last year, he visited the North Carolina General Assembly to push for the bill's passage. The measure, which applies to crimes committed on and after Dec. 1, was overwhelmingly approved by legislators earlier this month.
North Carolina's law requires adult offenders who commit certain sex crimes — including rape — against children under the age of 13 to be imprisoned for 25 years to life. Offenders who are released will be monitored by satellite for life.
The measure also boosts the penalties for other sex-related crimes when they involve children — such as promoting the prostitution of a minor — and further restricts sex offenders from going to areas where kids congregate, such as children's museums.
Gov. Mike Easley said the law shows that North Carolina, where Jessica once lived, is committed to ensuring that children are protected from "vicious predators."
"We will make sure they spend more time in prison and we will track them 24/7 to make sure they never abuse children again," Easley said in a statement.