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Wednesday, Nov 14, 2018
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Lunsford Documentary Revives Pain, Loss For Family

Mark Lunsford and his father, Archie, planned to be in Gainesville on Friday night to watch "Jessie's Dad," a new documentary about the family's ordeal. Ruth Lunsford - Mark Lunsford's mother and the grandmother of his slain daughter, Jessica Marie "Jessie" Lunsford - was staying home in Homosassa. Memories of the February 2005 rape and murder of their 9-year-old granddaughter are too painful for her, Archie Lunsford said. "My wife feels like she is going to have to have all these memories all over again," he said. "She doesn't want to see it. There are things from Jessie all over the house, to her a reminder of memories she doesn't want to remember."
A screening of the documentary, co-directed by Boaz Dvir, head of a communications office at the University of Florida, was scheduled for 6 p.m. on campus. Dvir, a former captain in the Israel Defense Forces and a journalist, said he has been working on the documentary for a year and a half, following Lunsford as he traveled the country trying to get legislators to pass versions of Florida's Jessie's Law. The law aims to better track sex offenders and keep them away from children. "I've shot 130 hours' worth," Dvir said. "I have to boil it down to a one-hour TV documentary, which means 50 minutes." Friday's screening showed a raw version. Dvir said he will work on the project through the summer and hopes to sell it "not to who gives me the most money, but who will be able to show it to the most people." So far, he said, the Public Broadcasting Service has shown some interest, though no deals are in the works. Sex offenders, Dvir said, never interested him until he met Lunsford. Dvir said he was drawn to the project because he noticed the Homosassa dateline on stories about the crime. "I used to live in Homosassa," he said. "An Israeli in Homosassa - imagine that. My sister Norit went to the same elementary school as Jessie." Now he is engrossed by the Lunsford saga. There were many, many emotional moments in that 130 hours, Dvir said. The most surprising, he said, were the obstacles Lunsford faced as he tried to persuade legislators to tighten laws regarding sexual predators. "One major obstacle is that judges and prosecutors are against it," he said. "They feel that Jessie's Law takes discretion away from them." Given all that the Lunsfords have gone through, Dvir said, there are moments in the documentary that make him cry. "I think, given my journalistic and military background, I was disciplined physically, mentally and emotionally," he said. "But there are still scenes that get to me." He talks about one in particular. "Mark is sitting in a hotel on one lobbying trip, quite successful, and he says he does not want any of this. He confesses he broke up with his girlfriend, couldn't keep the relationship going. He says it is no big deal. You can always get a girlfriend, maybe a better one, but you cannot get a kid like the one you had. Never. That just gets me." Archie Lunsford said seeing the documentary would be difficult for him, too. Among the scenes captured are when Citrus County sheriff's deputies - at the time unsure who had taken Jessie - interrogated both Mark and Archie Lunsford. "It is horrible, really, what we went through," Archie Lunsford said from the Homosassa trailer where Jessie was kidnapped by John Evander Couey, now on death row for raping Jessie and burying her alive. "Actually, I was so numb at the time. I lost my brother the day after we lost Jessie. I was so full of grief, I couldn't even concentrate." The family recently was embroiled in controversy when Mark Lunsford gave notice of his intent to sue Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy. Archie Lunsford said he tries to block it all out. "I don't even think about things anymore," he said. "From the beginning, we always knew that John Couey was the guy that killed her. I won't let him enter my mind. I do not think anything about him at all. My thoughts are how terrible it must have been for that child, and be there right across the street." Couey buried her in a trash bag in the yard of a mobile home near the Lunsfords' home. Archie and Ruth Lunsford were babysitting Jessie the night she disappeared. "I don't blame myself," he said. "I just have this feeling for the child, how horrible that must have been for her, what torment she went through before she died."

Editor Howard Altman can be reached at (813) 259-7629 or [email protected]

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