Penalty Phase Begins in Cozzie Murder Trial; Wilkes Family Speak - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

Penalty Phase Begins in Cozzie Murder Trial; Wilkes Family Speaks

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The Steven Cozzie murder trial moves into week two with the penalty phase.

Friday, Cozzie was found guilty of first degree murder along with kidnapping, aggravated child abuse and sexual battery.

The defense is using mental impairment as a mitigating factor for Cozzie's actions, putting their own mental health expert on the stand Tuesday to confirm his mental deficiencies.

When it was the state's turn, Courtney Wilkes' parents took the stand to honor their daughter's memory and describe the void they've felt these past two years.

"It's like a third of my heart is ripped off. I still have two kids that need me and they understand…she was my first. She was special," said Courtney's mother, Toni Wilkes.

It's a parent's worst nightmare to lose a child.

For Toni and Cordy Wilkes, their strawberry blonde 15 year old was an undeniable force for good.

Speaking candidly Monday, both spoke of the unimaginable loss they've felt since Courtney's death, two years ago.

"It feels like you've lost a part of your soul, a piece of your heart," said Mr. Wilkes.

"She was our hopes and our dreams and she was going to do something to change the world…to make it better. And you know what? She did…she did," said an emotional Mrs. Wilkes.

On June 16th, 2011, Cordy Wilkes was hesitant to let his daughter leave his sight, but both parents knew they'd have no reason not to trust her. Yet, as hours passed, Cordy knew something was terribly wrong.

"I knew Courtney, because if she could have gotten back, she would've been back. Then my next thing was, I've got to find her before I can go home," said Mr. Wilkes.

The loss they describe is unimaginable; siblings unable to truly lead normal lives.

Sister Callie was just entering high school in 2011.

"And so when she had to walk down that hallway, they'd say "there she is, she's the one who lost her sister.
Fortunately the kids were good to her," said Mrs. Wilkes.

They describe their small town fighting to keep her memory alive; white bows lining streets and business signs offering encouragement.

Perhaps what was most important to Courtney was family, and, today, she's at rest at her favorite place: the family farm in Lyons, GA.

"She'd been the first one for the family plot….and we brought her home. She's on our place," said a tearful Mr. Wilkes.

In May of this year, Courtney would have graduated high school. She was on track to be valedictorian and her classmates recognized her as such, draping the head chair with a sash and roses.

Testimony continues Tuesday from both the prosecution and defense as they continue to lay out the aggravated and mitigating factors that led Cozzie to murder Courtney Wilkes.

Stay with News 13 for the latest.