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Jury finds Kevin Kyne not guilty in death of his mother

LARGO — After four years of incarceration, and despite a previous conviction on the same charge, Kevin Kyne was found not guilty on Tuesday of murdering his mother in 2010 in their Seminole home.

"It was a long journey but justice has finally prevailed," Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger said afterward.

Kyne showed little emotion but he smiled and hugged Assistant Public Defender Allison Miller afterward.

The verdict means Kyne, 27, is now close to winning his freedom, only two years after he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Diane Kyne, 49, who had been strangled or smothered to death. The conviction was overturned on appeal last year.

RELATED COVERAGE: Once sentenced to life, Kevin Kyne walks out of jail

Kevin's grandmother Phyllis Karakash was almost speechless after Tuesday's verdict, which came after nearly six hours of deliberation, but she said, "I just knew he didn't kill his mother. He loved his mother."

But Diane Kyne's widowed husband, William Kyne, Kevin's stepfather, was visibly upset, especially after sitting through closing arguments in which Miller bluntly accused him of the murder.

"He got off for killing my wife but he'll be back for something else. You can mark my words," William said.

A hearing has been set for this morning to deal with a violation of probation allegation against Kevin. His release from jail is likely imminent.

RELATED COVERAGE: Kevin Kyne is back in jail after pool hall fight

In defending Kevin, attorneys pointed the finger at William as the killer, though he has never been charged with wrongdoing. Assistant State Attorney William Loughery rejected that claim in closing arguments Tuesday.

"The choice is clear … when you say one of those two did it, there's only one answer. And that is, Kevin Kyne is guilty of murdering his mother, Diane Kyne."

But Miller, the assistant public defender, did not hold back in accusing William of killing his wife. She pointed to insurance money as a powerful motive.

"Bill did this. Bill wanted to collect $750,000 and live a life that didn't include Kevin Kyne," Miller said.

It's an unusual case, because only two other people, Kevin and William, were at home on Aug. 15, 2010, when Diane was strangled or smothered to death in her bed. So one of them had to be the killer. But after Diane's death, both immediately called 911 and blamed the other. And both still do.

The case did not lack evidence. The challenge was that different pieces of evidence pointed in different directions, and someone had to be lying.

Kevin's first conviction was overturned when an appellate court found the original trial judge allowed too much testimony about prior conflicts between William and Kevin that were not relevant to the case.

There were two significant differences in the retrial. Unlike the first trial, Kevin Kyne chose to testify in this one, telling jurors last week, "I did not kill my mother, I'm not responsible for my mother's death."

Also, in the first trial, defense attorneys strongly suggested that William was the true killer. This time it was more than a suggestion, as Miller directly accused him of the killing.

Because the case rested on the conflicting firsthand accounts of Kevin and William, the investigation demanded forensic evidence to sort out the truth, Loughery said. He said the evidence pointed directly to Kevin, including:

• Tiny amounts of Kevin's blood were found on Diane's leg and also on a comforter on the bed where she was killed — even though Kevin claimed not to have entered her bedroom.

• One sandal with Kevin's DNA was found in the bedroom and another by the doorway, although he initially claimed never to have worn them.

• A fellow jail inmate of Kevin's said he admitted to the crime, with prosecutors maintaining the informant knew things only Kevin could have told him.

Loughery painted Kevin as a liar, saying he changed parts of his story. He also said tension had been building in the house before the murder, as Kevin had recently referred to his mother as a "b----" and repeatedly resisted her efforts to get him out of the house and to support himself.

But defense attorney Miller pointed to forensic evidence, which she said bolstered Kevin's claim of innocence, and she also attacked the prosecution's version.

"What is the significance of the blood on the comforter and the blood on the thigh? Absolutely nothing," she said. No one explained exactly how the blood got there, but she said the state needs to do that to prove its case. As to the sandals, she said one could easily have flown off his foot into the bedroom during a struggle between William and Kevin.

She also attacked William's story, questioning why he would go back into his house after struggling with Kevin, while also maintaining he did not return to the bedroom where his wife had just been killed. Miller played back a 911 recording in which William sounded as if he was right next to Diane. "Ninety percent of what Bill Kyne said in that 911 call isn't true, right?"

She also pointed out that DNA from William or a male relative of his was found on Diane's neck after she was asphyxiated.

Prosecutors said it wasn't surprising to find one spouse's DNA on another. Loughery, the assistant state attorney, also said there's nothing surprising about a married couple with an insurance policy, and took a jab at the defense effort to portray William as "this nefarious Dr. Moriarty," a villain in Sherlock Holmes stories.

Contact Curtis Krueger at ckrueger@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8232. Follow @ckruegertimes.

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