Hillsborough County jurors convicted Kenneth Ray Jackson this week of the rape and first-degree murderof Cuc Thu Tran. Jackson had been accused of the 2007 death of Tran, who was abducted during a morning jog, raped, stabbed in the throat and then left in a stolen van that was set on fire.
Jackson’s defense lawyer argued there was no evidence proving Jackson raped and murdered Tran. Jurors disagreed, taking less than an hour to convict Jackson.
Prosecutors told jurors Jackson stabbed Tran in the throat to silence her screams, and then set the van on fire to destroy DNA evidence in and on the body. The public defender told jurors the prosecution had failed to prove Jackson was guilty during the two week trial. Specifically, he argued that there was no evidence to tie Jackson to the allegations.
Prosecutors relied on DNA evidence, witnesses who testified that Jackson was seen not far from where Tran’s body was found and jailhouse informants who testified about Jackson’s own statements.
Jackson’s defense attorney argued that there was no evidence excluding the reasonable possibility that Jackson’s sperm was deposited in the victim up to five days prior to her death.
The penalty phase of the trial will begin next week. In that phase of trial, the same jury will hear evidence in support of and against sentencing Jackson to death for Tran’s murder.
The jury will determine whether sufficient “aggravating circumstances” (as defined by Florida’s death penalty statute) exist to impose a sentence of death. They then determine whether any “mitigating circumstances” (again, as defined by statute) exist which might outweigh the aggravating circumstances. All of these considered together result in a jury’s recommended sentence of life in prison or death.