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Sunday, Nov 19, 2017
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Man convicted of raping, murdering Seffner mom

TAMPA - They listened to testimony about DNA and incriminating jailhouse statements. They heard a defense lawyer say there was no evidence proving Kenneth Ray Jackson raped and murdered a 51-year-old mother of three. But jurors took less than an hour to resoundingly reject defense arguments and convict Jackson on all charges in the 2007 slaying of Cuc Thu Tran. Tran was abducted during a morning jog, then raped, stabbed in the throat and driven 13 miles in a stolen van before she and the van were set on fire. Next week, the same jury will return to Hillsborough Circuit Court to begin hearing evidence over whether Jackson should be put to death for the murder of the Vietnamese immigrant who worked as a nail technician.
Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon told jurors Jackson stabbed Tran in the throat to silence her screams, and set the fire in a failed attempt to destroy the most damning evidence – his DNA inside her. In closing arguments Thursday, the prosecution and defense depicted starkly different versions of the evidence in the trial. Public defender Gregory Hill told jurors the prosecution had failed to prove Jackson was guilty during the two week trial. "Where is this evidence?" Hill asked. "Where is it? Not that a crime took place, because it clearly did, but where is this evidence that connects Kenneth Jackson to the allegations? "Like a child on a long trip asking, 'Are we there yet? Are we there yet?' you should be asking, 'Where is the evidence?' " Harmon told jurors there is "a mountain of evidence," including the DNA, witnesses who saw Jackson not far from the scene where the body was found that morning in 2007 and jailhouse informants who testified about statements from Jackson. Hill said there was no way to know when Jackson's sperm got inside the victim, noting an expert testified it can last up to five days. He said the fact that Jackson denied to detectives that he knew Tran was not proof he raped her. "What evidence excluded the reasonable possibility that it wasn't deposited up to five days prior" to the killing, Hill asked. "What evidence did the state provide you to prove that to the exclusion and beyond a reasonable doubt? …Mr. Jackson may be a liar. Anybody can be a liar." Harmon said Jackson "thought he got away with this. … But the evidence in this case, like a trail of truth, led the detectives right to this defendant's door. … He is a murderer and a rapist, and that is a crystal clear fact. There is no doubt … that this defendant, this man sitting across here from you, raped and murdered Cuc Tran."

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