by Robert A. Waters
Steven Cozzie didn’t look like a monster, but a strange aura encircled him. The 21-year-old unabashedly lusted for girls in their early teens. And he had violent fantasies toward those weaker than him. Two weeks after nearly killing a 14-year-old girl, he raped and murdered Courtney Wilkes, 15.
Courtney, a Georgia resident, seemed to be the polar opposite of her killer. A straight-A student and a standout soccer player at Toombs County High School, Courtney was a well-adjusted young teen. She loved animals, and was a leader in the local Future Farmers of America (FFA). She was also active in the Bible Baptist Church in Vidalia.
Courtney and her family were visiting Seagrove Beach on Florida’s Gulf coast when Cozzie befriended them. While walking along the beach with Courtney, he forced her into a wooded area where he beat, raped, and strangled the young student. She fought hard for her life, but in the end was overpowered.
On October 17, 2013, a Walton County, Florida judge sentenced Cozzie to death.
In the penalty phase of his trial, Cozzie’s attorneys admitted his guilt, but attempted to get the jury to spare his life by—you guessed it—whining about his rotten childhood. Oh yeah, you guessed it again—he had an IQ of “only” 83. Oh yeah again—he was homeless because his parents had kicked him out of the house.
If those tired, lame excuses were supposed to sway the jury’s sympathies, it didn’t work. The jurors understood that millions of people grow up in less than perfect environments, but few commit heinous crimes. And not everyone is a genius, but few IQ-deficient people kill for pleasure.
Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson summed it up. “This is nothing more than pure evil,” he said.
Now the do-gooders will spend decades helping the killer bob and weave through the criminal justice system. If they’re lucky, some court will give Florida’s death penalty a knockout punch. Or some judge will overturn Cozzie’s verdict on a technicality. Justice in America is an elusive thing, and the odds are that the killer will die of old age.
In the meantime, Courtney’s family has been sentenced to a life of pain. Day after day, their hearts will ache. Each time the case is brought up again, the hurt will throb in their souls. The pain will last until each family member passes on.
Courtney was buried on the family farm, near the animals she loved. Her tombstone carries a reference to Joshua 1:9. The verse reads “Remember I commanded you to be strong and brave. Don't be afraid, because the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”