Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jurors hear testimony in death penalty case for 2007 murder

TAMPA — Only hours after a jury began weighing the death penalty for convicted rapist and murderer Kenneth Ray Jackson, one juror told the judge she was overcome emotionally and begged to be excused. Testimony about Jackson's learning disabilities as a child reminded her too much of her youngest son. She couldn't take any more.

Voting for life or death is something no one can prepare for. The remaining 13 — 12 jurors and one alternate — began hearing a history of Jackson's entire life Thursday to help them decide. Today, they'll give their recommendation.

A week ago, they convicted him of the 2007 rape and murder of Cuc Thu Tran, 50, a Seffner mother of three whom Jackson attacked as she jogged past the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church near her mobile home before dawn. He raped and fatally stabbed her there, then drove her body to Gibsonton in a stolen van, where he set the van on fire.

On Tuesday, Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon told jurors that Jackson had planned every part, learned her jogging schedule, stolen the van because it had sliding doors and killed her because she lived near him and could identify him. Under the law, his actions met a required aggravating factor for the death penalty — "cold, calculated, premeditated murder."

Jackson's actions, Harmon said, met another aggravating factor — "heinous, atrocious and cruel."

But Assistant Public Defender Charles Traina said that how Jackson got that way — how he grew up to become a sexual predator and killer — was why he deserved a life sentence rather than death.

The defense presented teachers who taught Jackson almost two decades ago and psychologists to portray him as a friendless child abandoned by his mother, raised by a grandmother who set no boundaries — a wild, unreachable boy who eventually formed a full-blown antisocial personality disorder.

Rosemary Borden, his fifth-grade teacher in Gibsonton, remembered him as "the only student I ever had to Baker Act." She said he was taken to a crisis center after drawing a stick figure lying on a road. He wrote underneath "Kenny is dead. Kenny will die."

This was a boy, she said, who had come from Texas where he had been labeled emotionally disturbed and could read only on a first-grade level. He had an IQ of 75.

Psychologist Yolanda Leon, testifying for the defense, said Jackson told her he'd been "tortured" as a child by being ordered to strike a wood post with a baseball hat until his hands went numb.

She said he told her he had smoked marijuana since age 5.

But prosecutor Harmon suggested Jackson exaggerated stories of abuse. He said Jackson's grandmother loved him, and his mother stayed in his life.

Testimony concludes today. Then the jury will vote on a recommendation to Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente. Their vote needn't be unanimous. By law, Fuente is required to give it "great weight."

John Barry can be reached at (813)226-3383 or

Jurors hear testimony in death penalty case for 2007 murder 11/01/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 1, 2012 9:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals


    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  2. No lack of issues facing St. Petersburg's six council candidates


    ST. PETERSBURG — The six candidates for City Council gathered Monday evening in the very chamber to which they aspire to serve.

    St. Petersburg City Council candidates (from left)  Brandi Gabbard and Barclay Harless in District 2; Jerick Johnston and incumbent council member Darden Rice in District 4; and Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll of District 6. All six candidates appeared at Monday night's forum at City Hall sponsored by the League of Women Voters. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]

  3. Iraq's Kurds vote on independence, raising regional fears


    IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi Kurds voted Monday in a landmark referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed as a hostile act by Iraq's central government. Neighboring Turkey even threatened a military response.

    People celebrate Monday after voting closed in a referendum on independence in Irbil, Iraq.
  4. North Korean diplomat says Trump has 'declared war'


    UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that President Donald Trump's weekend tweet was a "declaration of war" and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks outside the U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York on Monday.
  5. Pinellas grants St. Pete's request to add millions to pier budget

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    The Pinellas County Commission has granted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate millions more toward the city's new pier.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday  voted 7-1 to appropriate $17.6 million for the over-water portion of the Pier District. This is a rendering of what the new Pier District could look like. [Courtesy of St. Petersburg]