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Special to SoutheastGeorgiaToday by Tom McLaughlin

June 10-- The trial of the man accused of one of the most heinous crimes in recent Northwest Florida history gets under way Monday when a jury is selected to hear the case against Steven Anthony Cozzie.

{mosimage}Prosecutors will seek the death penalty if Cozzie is convicted of murdering 15-year-old Courtney Wilkes, who died after being sexually assaulted and brutally beaten on a nature trail a half-mile from where her Georgia family was vacationing in Seagrove Beach.

“This is nothing more than pure evil,” Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson said when Cozzie was taken into custody two hours after investigators located Wilkes’ body. “You don’t do what this man did to a child and tell me that he has a soul.”

Wilkes was a month away from her 16th birthday at the time of her death. She was an excellent student and starting sweeper on the soccer team at Georgia’s Toombs County High School.  She and her family were all active at the Bible Baptist Church in the nearby town of Vidalia, where her grandfather was pastor. 

Cozzie, who was 21 at the time of the murder, had been kicked out of his Seagrove Beach home days before Wilkes’ death in an act of “tough love” on the part of his mother.

He was described as a school outcast who apparently made at least some of his acquaintances uneasy.

Cozzie and Wilkes were seen together about 2 p.m. on the day she died near the Beachcrest condominiums on County Road 30A, where the Wilkes’ family was vacationing. 

 Her family reported her missing about 4 p.m. and the body was found about 6:30 p.m., just off a nature trail behind a house at 107 Pine Grove Circle, near the Cassine Gardens neighborhood.

Walton County deputies were led to Wilkes’ body by an acquaintance of Cozzie, who told investigators Cozzie had showed him the dead girl earlier in the day and said he’d killed her with a stick.

Bobby Elmore, an assistant state attorney with the First Judicial Circuit’s State Attorney’s Office, will prosecute the case. He said picking a 12-person jury for the first degree murder trial will consume the entire day Monday.

Spiro Kypreos will serve as the lead attorney in Cozzie’s defense.