June 17-- Last Friday Steven Cozzie was found guilty of brutally murdering Courtney Wilkes of Lyons two years ago.
Monday Courtney's family took the stand as Florida prosecutors presented a case on why Cozzie should be put to death.
Angel McCurdy filed this report from the courtroom in DeFuniak Springs, Florida late Monday.
"Juror members grabbed for tissues Monday morning as they heard about the life of Courtney Wilkes and the things the Lyons, Ga. girl hoped to achieve before her life was cut short.
Family members for Courtney, who was killed June 16, 2011, and her convicted killer, 23-year-old Steven Cozzie took the stand in court during the first day of the death penalty phase of Cozzie’s trial.
“A third of my heart has been ripped out,” said Toni Wilkes, Courtney’s mother, as tears streamed down her face. “… She was going to do something to change the world. She was going to make it better. … I’ll never be the same. My world will never be the same.”
Cozzie was convicted Friday of the first-degree murder of Courtney. Now, the jurors will hear testimony and decide to recommend life without parole or the death sentence for Cozzie. Circuit Judge Kelvin Wells will make the ultimate decision.
Assistant State Attorney Bobby Elmore started the morning off with Wilkes’ parents and her godfather testifying on the bright young girl who was found strangled, raped and beaten to death two years ago.
“She was the first one in our family plot, that wasn’t supposed to happen,” said Courtney’s father, Cordy Wilkes, his voice cracking as he spoke of his daughter. “ … I remember when she left (with Cozzie) and didn’t return. After a period of time, we came to the realization that she wouldn’t be back. If she could have come back she would have.”
After a morning of tears, the courtroom reconvened to hear from Cozzie’s family about his past, mental health and the stress he was under at the time of Courtney’s death.
“This is tragic for Courtney Wilkes family, but it’s also tragic for Stephen Cozzie’s family,” said Sharon Wilson, defense attorney for Cozzie. “They’ve been separated by bars and glass walls for two years and that will be the case for the rest of his life no matter what you decide.”
Cozzie’s half brother, Jeffery Pedersen, and half sister, Gwen Schmidt, testified that Cozzie was “slow” all of his life.
“He was book smart, but not street smart,” Pedersen said. “He was very immature, always hanging out with younger kids.”
Pedersen added that he was the only family member to keep in contact with Cozzie after he was kicked out of his mother, Melody Ellis’, home just two weeks before Courtney’s death.
“He had been living on some boardwalk (and) at the pool house at Cassine Gardens and he kept his stuff on an empty cul-de-sac on Robert Ellis Road,” Pedersen said.
His sister added to that testimony stating that Cozzie didn’t appear to suffer from mental disability, but was not on the same level as his peers.
“He’s 23 now, but I think mentally he’s 17 or 18,” Schmidt said.
His mother, Melody Ellis, said Cozzie was the son of a violent man. She testified that at the age of four he was taken away from her by his father until he was 16. During that time, Cozzie told his family he lived in abusive circumstances.
“I was choked, hit. His father raped me once,” Ellis said. “I don’t know if Steven saw that or not. (Steven’s father) used to use Steven as a pawn and he would hurt Steven and blame my ex-husband. … But Steven stayed somewhat on track in school where he was in special education classes, but he was always somewhat slow.”
Court will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the DeFuniak Springs Courthouse for further testimony. Wells said he expects the proceedings to go on until at least Wednesday evening.
The following report was filed at noon Monday by Angel McCurdy.
" Courtney Wilkes had a future. She was going to be valedictorian of her class, she was going to be a veterinarian when she grew up and she was going to change the world.
Assistant State Attorney Bobby Elmore presented his case Monday for the jury to advise the court to sentence 23-year-old Steven Cozzie with the death penalty for the June 16, 2011 killing of the 15-year-old Lyons, Ga. girl.
The only options for a sentencing are life without parole or the death sentence. The decision will ultimately fall on Circuit Judge Kelvin Wells.
Elmore told the court Monday morning he would prove that the first-degree murder Cozzie was convicted of Friday was a premeditated murder meriting the severe sentencing.
“He had the intent to rape and kill young females,” Elmore said. “The evidence proves a culmination of being cold, calculated and premeditated.”
Sharon Wilson, Cozzie’s defense attorney, told the jury in opening statements that she will never argue that Wilkes was a wonderful person. Her position is that Cozzie was brought up in challenging circumstances and with mental disabilities that contributed to his killing Courtney.
“This is tragic for Courtney Wilkes family, but it’s also tragic for Stephen Cozzie’s family,” Wilson said. “They’ve been separated by bars and glass walls for two years and that will be the case for the rest of his life no matter what you decide.”
Toni Wilkes, Courtney’s mother, opened up the proceedings telling the jury about her daughter who preferred cowboy boots to heels and baling hay to chasing boys.
“A third of my heart has been ripped out,” Wilkes said as tears streamed down her face. “… She was going to do something to change the world. She was going to make it better. … I’ll never be the same. My world will never be the same.”
At the time of Courtney’s death, Wilkes said her entire town commemorated the life of the popular teen from storefront signs to sports teams dedicating their season to her.
“She would have been 16 three weeks after her death and I wanted to throw her a big party, but she didn’t think anyone would come because it was summer. Three thousand people came to the church to remember her and 900 people came to the funeral. … She was loved. That was my girl.”