Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Killer's fight to survive still alive

First trial. Bryan Jennings is shown during his February 1980 trial in the death of Rebecca "Becky" Kunash, 6. FLORIDA TODAY file images.



28 years after crime, man's legal challenges persist

BY JOHN A. TORRES
FLORIDA TODAY

Shannon Parks remembers the little girl who wore the same dress to school the same day she did.

She remembers seeing news accounts of the girl's murder. She remembers being afraid to sleep with the window open.

Now, 28 years later, Parks wonders why her neighbor's rapist and killer remains on death row.

Bryan Jennings, a former U.S. Marine, was convicted and sentenced to death three different times for the May 11, 1979, abduction, rape and murder of Rebecca "Becky" Kunash, 6, of Merritt Island.

"I'm bothered that it's taken so long," Parks said. "I'm bothered that the girl's father died" before seeing Jennings executed."

Robert Kunash, the girl's father, died in 2001 at age 52.

Jennings, 48, has until today to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. Failing to do so would eliminate one of many obstacles for the state to start the execution process.

The appeal would ask the nation's highest court to reverse a ruling made earlier this year by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which denied Jennings' attempt to have portions of his case presented again with regard to his sentence.

Assistant State Attorney Christopher White, who prosecuted Jennings, also is angered that the sentence hasn't been carried out almost three decades after the crime.

"It's a huge frustration," White said. "Why haven't we been able to proceed even from the 1986 conviction and sentence? He has been convicted three times and sentenced to death three times. We should feel pretty confident we have the right guy."

According to archived FLORIDA TODAY news reports and court documents, Jennings, a 20-year-old who referred to himself as a "mad dog," was on leave at the time of the crime after serving in Okinawa, Japan. He was staying with his aunt and mother on Merritt Island. A Merritt Island High dropout, he was waiting for his next set of orders to come through.

On the night of May 10, he went drinking with some friends. While traveling from the first bar to the second, he went to Becky Kunash's bedroom window and watched her sleeping.

Very early the next morning, he pulled the 45-pound child from her window at 1555 Riviera Drive on Merritt Island. Then he drove the 4-foot-tall girl to a nearby canal and raped her. He struck her head on the pavement and fractured her skull. When he was done, Jennings held her head underwater for 10 minutes, then left.

White said the brutality of the crime shocked the county 11 years before Mark Dean Schwab would con his way into the life of Junny Rios-Martinez, 11, in order to rape and kill him.

"What happened to Junny is horrible, but I don't think it's worse than what happened to this little girl," he said. "The impact struck hard for anyone who has a child. How could the parents have anticipated something like this?"

Schwab came within hours of being executed last month. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay while it reviews constitutional challenges to lethal injection procedures.

Jennings' own long road through the judicial system started shortly after Kunash's murder, when he was arrested on a traffic warrant. The next morning, police questioned him about the murder.

Jennings had a burglary arrest in his past, and witnesses said they saw him in that neighborhood. He initially asked for a lawyer, but then answered questions without an attorney present. He incriminated himself by telling police he was drawn to the glow of the nightlight through the girl's window.

Investigators found his palm print and fingerprints on the girl's windowsill. They also found hand-drawn maps, which were used as evidence during his trial. An inmate also testified against him at trial. The public defender's office refused to cross-examine the witness because they had once represented him as well.

Jennings was found guilty in February 1980 and sentenced to death on May 7, 1980.

Jennings won the right to a new trial when the state Supreme Court agreed that his lawyers should have cross-examined the inmate.

But on July 15, 1982, Jennings was found guilty a second time. Again, he was sentenced to death. This time, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision and ordered a new trial saying Jennings should have had a lawyer present during questioning, meaning that some of the evidence could not be used by prosecutors at his third trial.

It didn't matter.

In 1986, he again was found guilty and sentenced to death.

The appeals have not stopped. Jennings has filed 12 appeals since his third trial, and all have been denied.

The latest denial, by the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta, described his crime as having "callous indifference to the suffering of his young victim, brutal unrelenting ferocity of his attack and the violent manner in which he dashed her head against the curb."

The attorney general's office said it will move forward with the case, but an execution anytime soon is unlikely as the U.S. Supreme Court reviews the use of lethal injection.

White is not holding his breath.

"The judicial system provides so many rights for the defendant that you can hardly get to the conclusion," he said.

Contact Torres at 242-3649 or jtorres@floridatoday.com.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

As rida is back to executing monsters. Maybe we can work to get justice for Rebecca next?

Anonymous said...

That should have said "AS OF 6PM tonight, Florida...." part of the post got deleted.

Anonymous said...

Let's hope that they now put him to death and give Becky and her father peace.

Anonymous said...

Killing a human being is murder!
H. Dragt

claudia said...

To the person that said-Killing a human being is murder!! It Ceartinly is!!! In the fact that the MONSTER that murdered dear little Becky is not dead is a mystery to me!!! I knew Bob & Pat Kunash, I was at the restaurant they owned in Cocoa, Fl., right before she was Killed(Murdered), she just got her little ears pierced. I was in constant contact with them for quite awhile before Pat moved back up North-she couldn't stay where her little Angel was Brutally Murdered!!! Bob was the opposite-in that, he couldn't leave where his little Angel's body was resting.. Why part of my tax dollars is feeding, clothing, paying for weights in the gym and what ever luxury he has is beyond any reasonal, logical, rational thought!!! The sooner they Kill the MONSTER the better!!!! I will throw a party that day in the Loving Memory of the Little Angel Becky, and her loving, caring Father Bob (R.I.P. my Friend!!) and for Pat and the older sister of Becky's!! Again-Killing is Murder!!! My friend's Bob and Pat's little daughter was Killed(Murdered)!!!!!!Get it??

Anonymous said...

I lived in Merritt Island ,was LIVE ON School Security at the time of this MURDER. I still have nightmares and have not forgotten the poor child and the way she died!!! This monster was over seas HOW MANY CHILDREN DID HE DO THIS TO OVER THERE. Send this vile excuse to GOD where he is awaitibg judgement. My Very dear friend Lottie said to me that as long as he lives he will remember what he did and continue to recieve a thrill from this. I agree!!!!!!! SEND HIM FOR JUDGEMENT!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

It is time for the governor to sign his death warrant. This is abuse of the legal system. He made a comment that " I will out live all of you" and he may.

Sally Erner said...

I remember this little girl, I went to the same school, I was 10 at the time, I remember hearing the news come on the radio while waiting for the bus, and then the song "I will survive" by Gloria Gaynor came on...everytime I hear that song now I think of Becky....RIP Becky....I hope your Mother can somehow find peace