DEFUNIAK SPRINGS - Walton County jury recommends the judge sentence Steven Cozzie to death for the 2011 murder of 15-year-old Courtney Wilkes.
After deliberating for less than two hours Thursday morning, the jury returned with a unanimous decision 12-0, in favor of the death penalty.
Wilkes was on vacation with her family from Georgia when she was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered by Cozzie.
The family, as you might imagine, is relieved by the outcome.
“Get home to our girl where she is,” said Toni Wilkes, Courtney’s mother. “Let her know how it turned out and then maybe today will be the first day of our healing.”
During the penalty phase, which lasted three days, a psychiatrist testified Cozzie told him he had been physically, emotionally and sexually abused.
A 16-year-old girl from Kentucky also testified Cozzie attacked her, just days before Wilkes was murdered.
"I like stepped in front and was walking and he came up behind me and strangled me,” the girl said. “He put like a cloth type thing around my neck."
A few minutes into the attack, the girl said Cozzie suddenly stopped.
"He like, backed away and he was like I can't do this, I can't do this.”
But for some reason, neither the girl's mother nor grandmother called police.
"We talked about it,” said Pauline Stewart, the girl’s grandmother. “We'd been there all week and we were leaving the next day. We both had to go back to work. We thought she had not been raped. She was emotionally upset and physically upset, I'm sure. We just made a poor choice."
A week later, Cozzie killed Wilkes.
During the trial, his former best friend testified Cozzie showed him the body and told him he killed Wilkes.
Cozzie’s attorney also admitted his client was guilty during his closing argument.
The judge can either follow the jury’s recommendation and sentence Cozzie to death or sentence him to life in prison without parole.