Wednesday, June 20, 2018
News Roundup

Jury recommends death for killer of Seffner mom

TAMPA — Eleven of 12 jurors quickly recommended the death penalty Friday for Kenneth Ray Jackson, who raped and murdered a 50-year-old Seffner mother of three in 2007.

Jackson wasn't immediately sentenced by Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente, but under the law the judge must give "great weight" to their recommendation. They deliberated for about 90 minutes. Their vote for death was anonymous.

Jackson, 30, showed no reaction.

A week ago, the jury convicted him of the 2007 rape and murder of Cuc Thu Tran, 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 in a stolen van to Gibsonton, where he set the van on fire.

This week, jurors were read an anguished letter from Tran's oldest son, Phuc Tran, who wrote that she was among the last of the "boat people" to escape the aftermath of the Vietnam War. In America, she raised three sons by working six days a week as a nail technician at a Brandon mall, making only enough for the small trailer they shared.

"She was devoted to our education," her son wrote.

Jackson lived only a hundred yards away. He ambushed Tran as she jogged past the church on County Road 579. He later told jail inmates that he stabbed her in her neck to stop her screams as he raped her.

This week, Jackson's attorneys called upon psychologists who said he suffered from an antisocial personality disorder with psychotic tendencies. They theorized that an unhappy, unstable childhood lay behind the disorder. He was born to a 15-year-old girl, was raised by a drug-abusing grandmother, has an IQ of 75, reads at a first-grade level in the fifth grade, and couldn't name one friend.

Defense attorney Charles Traina told jurors that the testimony "should not be interpreted as an excuse for what happened to Cuc Tran. This is a plea for a recommendation of life in prison. He will never be able to walk as a free man again."

The jury was shown photos of Jackson as a baby and as a Little Leaguer.

"Somewhere along the line, that little boy was lost," Traina said.

Judge Fuente will make the final decision on the death penalty. He did not set a sentencing date, but set a status hearing for Dec. 14.

John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or [email protected].

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