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Bryan Fredrick JENNINGS

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 11, 1979
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: December 9, 1958
Victim profile: Rebecca Kunash (female, 6)
Method of murder: Drowning
Location: Brevard County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on May 7, 1980
 
 

 

Florida Supreme Court

 
opinion 68835 opinion 74926
 
opinion 80416 opinion SC93056
 
 

 
 

DC#  073045  
DOB:  
12/09/58

Eighteenth Judicial Circuit, Brevard County Case, Case # 79-773
Sentencing Judge, Trial I: The Honorable Tom Waddell
Sentencing Judge, Resentencing I: The Honorable Clarence Johnson, Jr.
Sentencing Judge, Resentencing II: The Honorable Charles M. Harris
Attorneys, Trial I: Joan Bickerstaff & Leland Wooten – Assistant Public Defenders
Attorney, Trial II: Stanley R. Andrews – Private
Attorney, Trial III: Vincent W. Howard – Private
Attorneys, Direct Appeal I: James R. Wulchak & Michael S. Becker – Assistant Public Defenders
Attorney, Direct Appeal II: Christopher S. Quarles – Assistant Public Defender
Attorney, Direct Appeal III: Christopher S. Quarles – Assistant Public Defender
Attorney, Collateral Appeals:  Martin McClain – Registry

Date of Offense: 05/11/79

Date of Sentence: 05/07/80

Date of First Resentencing: 09/03/82

Date of Second Resentencing: 04/25/86

Circumstances of Offense:

The nude body of six-year-old Rebecca Kunash was found in a Brevard County canal on May 11, 1979. 

According to the autopsy report, she suffered a fractured skull. She had been raped and asphyxiation was the final cause of death. 

At trial, the evidence compiled suggested that Bryan Jennings broke into Rebecca’s bedroom and covered her breathing passages until she lost consciousness. 

Upon exiting the house, Jennings threw the victim down, causing her head to strike the pavement with enough force to fracture her skull.  Jennings then moved the victim to a canal close by where he sexually assaulted her before holding her head underwater for approximately ten minutes. 

Shortly after the murder, Jennings was arrested on an Orange County traffic warrant.  On May 12, officers awakened Jennings at 1:00 a.m. for the purpose of questioning him about Rebecca’s murder. 

Jennings indicated that he wanted an attorney after he was read his rights.  The investigator further explained Jennings’ rights and said he hoped Jennings would continue questioning at that time. 

Jennings decided that he would talk to the investigating officer if he was allowed a brief recess to gather his thoughts.  Five minutes later, Jennings’ returned and consented to proceed with questioning without his attorney.

During the interrogation, Jennings initially said that he was not involved in the murder, but when the investigator pressed him, Jennings made an incriminating statement.  This statement resulted in the police gaining possession of clothing items, hand-drawn maps, and pictures, all of which were later introduced into evidence.

Trial Summary:

05/16/79           Defendant was indicted as follows:

Count I: Premeditated First-Degree Murder
Count II: Felony First-Degree Murder
Count III: Felony First-Degree Murder
Count IV: Kidnapping
Count V: Sexual Battery on victim under 11 years of age
Count VI: Sexual Battery on victim under 11 years of age
Count VII: Sexual Battery on victim under 11 years of age
Count VIII: Burglary with intent to commit sexual battery
Count IX: Aggravated Battery

02/07/80            Defendant found guilty on all counts

02/11/80            The jury voted for a sentence of Death by a vote of 11 to 1

05/07/80            Defendant was sentenced as follows:

Count I: Premeditated First-Degree Murder – Death
Count IV: Kidnapping – Life sentence
Count V: Sexual Battery on victim under 11 years of age – Life sentence
Count VI: Sexual Battery on victim under 11 years of age – Life sentence
Count VIII: Burglary with intent to commit sexual battery – Life sentence

04/08/82            The Florida Supreme Court vacated the convictions and sentences and remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial.

Second Trial:

07/15/82          The verdict was as follows:

Count I: Premeditated First-Degree Murder – Guilty
Count IV: Kidnapping – Guilty
Count V: Sexual Battery on victim under 11 years of age – Guilty
Count VI: Sexual Battery on victim under 11 years of age – Not Guilty
Count VII: Sexual Battery on victim under 11 years of age – Guilty
Count VIII: Burglary with intent to commit sexual battery – Guilty

07/16/82           Jury recommended Death by a vote of 9 to 3

09/03/82           Defendant was resentenced as follows:

Count I: Premeditated First-Degree Murder – Death
Count IV: Kidnapping – Life sentence
Count V: Sexual Battery on victim under 11 years of age – Life sentence
Count VIII: Burglary with intent to commit sexual battery – Life sentence

02/25/85           United States Supreme Court vacated judgment and remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial

Third Trial:

03/31/86           The verdict was as follows:

Count I: Premeditated First-Degree Murder – Guilty
Count II: Felony First-Degree Murder – Guilty
Count III: Felony First-Degree Murder – Guilty
Count IV: Kidnapping – Guilty
Count V: Sexual Battery on victim under 11 years of age – Guilty
Count VIII: Burglary with intent to commit sexual battery – Guilty

04/08/86            Jury recommended Death by a vote of 11 to 1

04/25/86            Defendant was resentenced as follows:

Count I: First-Degree Murder – Death
Count IV: Kidnapping – Life sentence 
Count V: Sexual Battery on victim under 11 years of age – Life sentence
Count VIII: Burglary with intent to commit sexual battery – Life sentence

Case Information:

A Direct Appeal was filed with the Florida Supreme Court (FSC) on 06/02/80.  Issues that were raised on appeal included whether the defendant was denied the benefit of cross-examination of a vital and material witness.  The following is an explanation of the events leading up to the denied cross-examination. 

Before the commencement of the trial, the state announced that it was going to call an inmate named Allen Kruger as a witness.  Kruger said that while he was in jail, he overheard Jennings make incriminating statements to his cellmate. 

The assistant public defender representing Jennings attempted to withdraw as counsel because Kruger had also been represented by a public defender.  At this point in the pre-trial process, Kruger was awaiting sentencing for his conviction of Second-Degree Murder. 

The trial judge denied the counsel’s request to withdraw, a decision that was upheld by higher courts.  At the actual trial, a sentenced Kruger testified that Jennings confessed to the murder and provided details, such as how he had beaten and then killed the victim. 

The public defender representing Jennings refused to cross-examine Kruger, maintaining that to cross-examine the witness would be a violation of the code of professional responsibility. 

The trial judge insisted that the public defender cross-examine the witness, but he refused and no cross-examination occurred.  The FSC agreed that the defendant was denied a fair trial and on 04/08/82, both the conviction and sentence were vacated and the case was remanded to the circuit court for a new trial.

Jennings was resentenced on 09/03/82.  A second Direct Appeal was filed with the FSC on 09/10/82.  Issues that were raised on appeal included whether the trial court erred in allowing admissions made by defendant pursuant to police interrogation and after proper waiver of counsel.  On 07/12/84, the FSC affirmed the conviction and sentence of Death.

A Petition for Writ of Certiorari was filed with the United States Supreme Court (USSC) on 09/10/84.  The USSC granted Certiorari, vacated judgment, and remanded the case to the FSC for further consideration on 02/25/85, in light of Shea v. Louisiana and Smith v. Illinois.  After further consideration, the FSC vacated the decision and remanded the case to the circuit court for a new trial on 05/23/85, stating that Jennings’ confession was now suppressed.

Jennings was resentenced again on 04/25/86.  A third Direct Appeal was filed on 05/29/86.  Issues that were raised on appeal included whether application of the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine required the suppression of specific photographs taken as a result an illegally obtained confession.  All of the issues raised were found to be either harmless or without merit and on 08/27/87, the FSC affirmed the conviction and sentence.

A Petition for the Writ of Certiorari was filed on 12/24/87 and denied on 02/22/88. 

A Petition for Habeas Corpus was filed with the FSC on 10/26/89 and denied on 06/13/91.

A 3.850 Motion was filed with the circuit court on 10/23/89 and denied on 10/26/89. 

A 3.850 Appeal was filed with the FSC on 03/14/90.  Issues that were raised included whether the state withheld material, exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland.  The FSC did not find a Brady violation; however, they did find merit to the claim that Jennings is entitled to certain portions of the state’s files as public records under Chapter 119.  In light of the public records request, the 3.850 Appeal was granted in part and denied in part giving Jennings additional time to file any new Brady claims that might arise from the disclosure of state files. 

A 3.850 was filed with the circuit court on 01/16/92 and denied on 03/18/98. 

A 3.850 Appeal was filed with the FSC on 06/13/94 and dismissed on 12/20/94, per the State’s motion that the Appeal was prematurely filed.

Another 3.850 Appeal was filed with the FSC on 05/26/98.  Issues that were raised on appeal included whether the trial court erred in denying relief based on appellant’s Brady and Strickland claims and whether the defendant’s counsel was ineffective.  All of the claims were deemed either harmless or without merit, and the FSC affirmed the circuit court’s denial of the 3.850 on 03/22/01.

A Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus was filed with the United States District Court, Northern District, on 07/02/02 that was denied on 09/29/05.

A Petition for Habeas Corpus was filed with the FSC on 10/02/02 and was denied on 06/18/03.

A Petition for Writ of Certiorari was filed with the United States Supreme Court on 12/08/03 and was denied on 03/22/04.

A Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Appeal was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, on 11/14/05 and is pending.

FloridaCapitalCases.state.fl.us

 

 

 
 
 
 
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