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Saturday, Sep 23, 2017
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Accused killer of Seffner mom slated for trial this week

TAMPA - Cuc Thu Tran left her Seffner home at about 5:30 a.m. in September 2007 to go for her usual morning jog. She had pink rollers in her hair. The burnt body of the mother of three was found 2 1/2 hours later in the smoky hulk of a stolen van 13 miles away. Details of what happened in the interim are expected to come out in the next two weeks as the man accused of killing Tran faces trial.
But first, attorneys must select the jurors who will serve in the trial of Kenneth Ray Jackson, 29. Jackson has been held without bail since his arrest two weeks after deputies found the remains of the 1993 Dodge minivan in a vacant lot on Bullfrog Court in Gibsonton. Jackson is charged with first-degree murder, sexual battery with a deadly weapon, second-degree arson and grand theft. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty if jurors convict Jackson. Lawyers in the case expect the trial to last two weeks. Prosecutors and defense attorneys spent today questioning the 60 potential jurors called in the case about their opinions on the death penalty and the process Florida uses to impose it. Jury selection is expected to continue Tuesday. There hasn't been a death sentence imposed in a Hillsborough County courtroom since 2007, and a jury hasn't had to consider it since 2009. Jurors first consider guilt or innocence. Then, if Jackson is convicted, they will consider whether aggravating factors outweigh those presented to mitigate the possibility of a death sentence. The jury makes a recommendation; Circuit Judge William Fuente would make the ultimate decision. A Miami federal judge struck down that process in an appeal last month, but other judges have upheld it. Deputies said Tran was stabbed and then set ablaze in the van, which was stolen from a parking lot where it was being offered for sale. The body was so badly burned it took authorities time to identify the victim's race and gender. Tran's blood-soaked clothes were discovered on the grounds of a Seffner church by a lawn maintenance worker. Witnesses, the clothes and other physical evidence led authorities to Jackson, deputies said. Investigators traced their suspect to Carabelle, in the Florida Panhandle, where he had family and friends. Deputies linked Jackson to Tran's death with a DNA sample they say he agreed to provide. The attack occurred weeks after Jackson was released from prison. He had served four years on grand theft charges from Franklin County.

tbrennan@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7698
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