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Tampa cold case ends 28 years later with quiet guilty plea

Jamie Christine Duncan was found strangled in 1991 behind a building on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The slaying was unsolved until 2015, when DNA linked Alfred Lewis Fennie to the crime. Tuesday he pleaded guilty.
DNA evidence linked Alfred Fennie, 58 to the 1991 murder of Jamie Christine Duncan in Tampa. Fennie was already in prison for a murder that occurred in Hernando County the same year. On Tuesday, he pleaded guilty to Duncan's murder and received a 50-year sentence. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
DNA evidence linked Alfred Fennie, 58 to the 1991 murder of Jamie Christine Duncan in Tampa. Fennie was already in prison for a murder that occurred in Hernando County the same year. On Tuesday, he pleaded guilty to Duncan's murder and received a 50-year sentence. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]

TAMPA — One Saturday afternoon in August 1991, a man noticed what looked like a woman sleeping on the ground behind a small office building on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Police were called. Officers found the woman dead. She had been raped and strangled, a ligature pulled tight around her neck.

Her name was Jamie Christine Duncan. She was 24.

Detectives determined she’d been attacked after finishing the night shift as the assistant manager at the Burger King just across the busy four-lane road. There were few clues. The case stayed cold for years.

It ended quietly in a Tampa courtroom Tuesday morning.

Jamie Christine Duncan was found strangled in 1991 behind a building on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. [Classmates.com]

Alfred Lewis Fennie, a state prisoner condemned long ago to be executed in a different murder, pleaded guilty to Duncan’s rape and murder. In exchange, he was given a 50-year prison sentence.

Although Fennie denied his guilt until the end, his DNA suggested otherwise.

It was his DNA in a rape kit investigators collected from Duncan’s body, according to court documents. And it was his DNA on a cigarette butt that crime scene technicians found.

Cold case investigators submitted both those items for testing in 2014. The DNA was entered into a national database run by the FBI and compared with thousands of samples from thousands of people imprisoned throughout the U.S.

Later that year came a match to Fennie.

The 58-year-old prisoner resides at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, home of Florida’s death row. He’s there for the murder of Mary Shearin, a Tampa woman who was kidnapped in September 1991 and driven to Hernando County, where she was shot to death and left in a field. Fennie has always blamed his co-defendant, Michael Frazier, who is serving a life sentence.

When investigators came to ask him about the Duncan case, he maintained his innocence.

“I never murdered anyone never," he said.

He claimed that he had dated a woman who had worked at Burger King in Tampa, according to court documents. He said they’d had sex three or four times. When the detectives showed him a picture of Duncan, he said he didn’t recognize her. They told him she was strangled.

“You ever strangle anybody, Alfred?” he was asked.

“No.”

Fennie was charged with Duncan’s murder in 2015 and moved to the Hillsborough County Jail. The case drew scarce public attention even as attorneys prepared for a trial scheduled for next week.

In recent weeks, Fennie’s public defenders unsuccessfully sought to have DNA evidence excluded from the case. When the lawyers viewed the cigarette butt and the rape kit in a meeting with police in 2018, they noted that the items were stored together in the same box. They questioned whether the evidence could have been contaminated. A judge didn’t buy it and said the evidence would be allowed.

Days later came Fennie’s guilty plea.

On Tuesday morning, Fennie sat at a defense table clad in red and orange jail garb, his wrists shackled. In a voice that was calm but gruff, he acknowledged he was giving up the right to a trial, which was set to begin next week.

Had a jury found him guilty, he faced another death sentence.

He said little else before returning to jail. Sometime soon, he will return to prison.

Duncan’s brother, James, who was among the witnesses set to testify in the case, was not present in court Tuesday. He did not return messages for comment.

Her murder received little news coverage when it happened. The few stories that were written mentioned that she was born in Chicago and moved to Tampa from Brooksville about two years before she died.

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