TAMPA — As the state rested its case Friday, uncertainty characterized the death-penalty prosecution of Vincent George Brown, accused of kidnapping his girlfriend in the trunk of her own car and killing her in November 2008.
A final day of medical testimony was mostly inconclusive. DNA samples showed that Brown had sex with his girlfriend, Jennifer Johnson, after taking her out on the night of Nov. 14.
But samples from Johnson's car, the derelict house in Lakeland where her body was found, and the plastic bags found wrapped around her face and neck failed to conclusively match Brown's DNA.
There was also uncertainty about where Johnson died. Polk County Medical Examiner Stephen Nelson said he believed her body was dumped at the house in Lakeland sometime after her murder elsewhere.
Nelson said abrasions on her body indicated she had been dragged, but he also found small rocks and leaf material in her vaginal cavity that he couldn't explain. He said Johnson died of asphyxiation, either from the plastic bags over her face, or from strangulation.
His testimony was a wearing ordeal for Johnson's family. Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente warned them they would have to stay silent while the jury viewed autopsy photos, and they complied. Several wept quietly.
Other questions remained. Evidence included a frantic 911 call by Johnson in which she told a dispatcher she was trapped in the trunk of her car. But she told the dispatcher "they" put her in the trunk, while the state contends Brown acted alone.
Evidence also included a voice mail message Brown made hours later, saying he had done what he had to do, and wouldn't be around anymore. His attorneys say the message referred to his decision to turn himself in for a probation violation.
In opening statements last Monday, Brown's defense attorney Robert Fraser suggested Johnson could have been abducted by someone else in some other car.
The defense will present its case on Monday at 1 p.m.
John Barry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3383.