Use the form below to filter for articles containing certain key words. Use the calendar on the right for articles published during a certain Month, Year.

June 19--  Wednesday was a long day of expert testimony and cross-examination in the death penalty phase of the Steven Cozzie trial in Defuniak Springs, Florida.

The 23-year-old Cozzie was convicted last Friday of brutally murdering 15-year-old Courtney Wilkes of Lyons two years ago while she and her family were on a beach vacation.

Our Courtroom Reporter Tom McLaughlin reports...

" Twelve jurors have spent seven days listening to testimony during the trial and penalty phases of the first degree murder trial of Steven Cozzie.

Thursday each will be asked to decide whether he or she believes Cozzie should be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison.

In closing penalty phase arguments Assistant State Attorney Bobby Elmore laid out the reasons that he believed Cozzie should die for the “heinous, atrocious and cruel” means he used to end the life of 15-year-old Georgia resident Courtney Wilkes.

“Now it’s for you to decide whether what Steven Cozzie did to a special, precious, exceptional child deserves the ultimate punishment,” Elmore said. “I submit if it does not, no crime does.”

Defense Attorney Sharon Wilson pointed to the “parade of horribles” that Cozzie’s 23 years on earth have been and asked jurors to take mercy on “a very sick boy.”

“I call him a boy because mentally and emotionally he is a child,” she said.

Cozzie was convicted Friday of first degree premeditated murder for the June 16, 2011 killing of Wilkes, who he lured away from the South Walton beachfront condominium she was staying at with her family.

He convinced Wilkes to visit the Cassine Gardens Nature Trail with him and when she mentioned she needed to leave he attacked her with a shirt, strangled her into submission, then raped her and beat her to death with a heavy piece of lumber.

Cozzie was convicted of kidnapping, aggravated child abuse and sexual assault along with the murder.

{mosimage}  Circuit Court Judge Kelvin Wells confers with attorneys during the penalty phase of he Cozzie trial. (Photo Northwest Florida Daily News)

Thursday morning, after receiving final instructions from Circuit Court Judge Kelvin Wells, the jurors will retire to their quarters and decide individually what their recommendation regarding Cozzie’s fate will be. The conclusion of the majority will serve as the recommendation of the body.

Wells must, by law, give “great weight” to the recommendation provided, but ultimately the final decision on sentencing will be his. He may impose sentence immediately or he may take the jury recommendation under advisement and pass sentence at a later time.

Wilson noted in her closing that Cozzie’s “parade of horribles” had been laid bare for jurors during the course of the weeklong trial and two-day sentencing phase. At trial Elmore had presented graphic evidence as he described the gruesome nature of the crime and the injuries inflicted on Wilkes, a popular Lyon’s, Georgia resident one month away from her 16th birthday.

During the sentencing phase, it was the defense team’s turn to discuss the awful circumstances surrounding Cozzie’s upbringing. Family members and later psychologists described physical, emotional and sexual abuse inflicted on a mentally deficient child by his father, step mother and siblings at home and others outside the home environment who found him “weird” and an easy mark for bullying and exploitation.

“I’m not asking you to forgive Steven Cozzie,” Wilson said. “Do we execute a 13-year-old in a 23-year-old’s body?

“Mercy is not something that can be earned. Mercy is something granted. I’m asking you all to grant mercy to Steven Cozzie,” Wilson said.“I’m asking each of you to recommend a life sentence for Steven Cozzie.”

Elmore told jurors Cozzie knew what he was doing when he lured Wilkes to the place he intended to rape and kill her. He had attempted a violent sexual attack on a 14-year-old at the same place a week before Wilkes’ murder, he argued.Life in prison would allow Cozzie to see the sun and the stars, Elmore said, a luxury he did not afford his victim.

“He deserves the ultimate penalty for what he did, how he did it and for the thoughts he was thinking as he did it,” Elmore said.