Lunsford Act to be signed today

Gov. Mike Easley will be in Gastonia today to sign a bill inspired by the 2005 rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, who lived in Gaston County most of her life before moving to Florida.

The Jessica Lunsford Act, which Easley will sign at 2 p.m. at Gastonia City Hall, will impose stricter penalties on sex offenders, making the minimum prison sentence 25 years for adults who commit certain sex crimes, including rape, against those younger than 13 years old.

Mark Lunsford, Jessica Lunsford's father, will join the governor at city hall.

John Couey, a convicted sex offender, kidnapped Jessica Lunsford from her Homosassa, Fla., home in February 2005. Lunsford's body was later found buried in a shallow grave in Couey's backyard. Police concluded that she was raped and buried alive. Couey was sentenced to death for Lunsford's murder.

Monroe resident Jeff Gerber, co-chairman of the Coalition for Jessica's Law, said he was relieved the bill was finally getting signed into law.

“This should have never taken two years to get through the legislature,” he said.

Gerber founded the Coalition for Jessica's Law in response to the delay in the legislature.

“It infuriated me,” he said. “You would have thought North Carolina would have been the first to have this law since Jessica was from here.”

Gerber's organization raised awareness about the importance of the bill by holding rallies across the state with various speakers. North Carolina will become the 43rd state to have a version of Jessica's law.

“I'm ecstatic,” Gerber said. “This is a true victory for all throughout North Carolina.”