Category Archives: Robert Dunn

Robert Dunn jury recommends life, State fails to get death sentence again

Day Care Killer Robert Dunn

Day Care Killer Robert Dunn

The jury has returned with a recommendation for a life sentence, meaning Robert Dunn will be spared execution.  The Dept. of Corrections will conduct a pre-sentencing investigation, and the sentencing is set for January, but the judge will have no discretion and must impose life without parole.  This is a great result for the Defense team, and demonstrates the difficulty and expense of the State trying to impose the death penalty.

Robert Dunn jury is deliberating death

The jury is out to determine if they are going to recommend the death penalty, or if Dunn will receive life in prison.  I would not be surprised to hear a verdict this evening.

Robert Dunn – Penalty Phase

Crimcourts hasn’t been able to observe any of the penalty phase so far, but the News-Press has had especially good coverage of this portion of the trial.  The Defense is making an extensive presentation of the history of mental health problems.  Some of the noteworthy testimony include that he got fired from his pool cleaning job for seeing an imaginary man, and that he was known as “Crazy Bobby”.  His mental health disorders and stressors on his mental state are mitigating circumstances the jury can consider as they determine whether a death sentence will be recommended.  The Defense has a lot to overcome, as the facts of the murder are shocking, and the victim sympathetic.  The State ahs presented testimony from her family regarding the impact on their lives.  The expectation at the courthouse is that the penalty phase will likely resolve this week.

Robert Dunn review

Thanks again to the for the mention in their recent article on the Dunn trial.  I know Mr. Dunn’s attorney, David Brener, takes an exception to my characterization of some of the facts of the case as horrific, but that’s a fair interpretation of the facts.  Mr. Dunn is now convicted of taking a gun into a day care and shooting his estranged wife in front of a classroom full of children.  It doesn’t matter what I call it in an article, those are bad facts that the jury will be weighing during the sentencing phase.  I had also commented that there are mitigating factors that the jury would consider, such as Mr. Dunn’s history of mental health issues.  That comment didn’t make the final cut, but Mr. Stewart did include Mr. Brener’s comments regarding his illness.  Brener is an excellent death-penalty defender, and Mr. Dunn would be foolish to have him removed from the case, as he has requested of Judge Steinbeck. 

As discussed in the article, the conviction is only part of the way to the death penalty, and the last several 1st Degree convictions in Lee County did not result in a death sentence.  Mr. Brener was able to avoid the death penalty for Kemar Johnston, in spite of evidence that Mr. Johnston was a gang leader, and directed the torture of the 2 victims (though the details were in dispute).  The last death sentence in Lee County was 5 years ago in the Twilegar case, wherein Mr. Twilegar beat the victim over the head and then buried him alive.  Crimcourts will continue to follow the #robertdunn case.

Robert Dunn closing arguments finished

Closing arguments concluded this evening in the Robert Dunn – Bobbie Noonan Day Care Killing case, according to Wink News.  The case will be handed over for the jury to begin deliberations tomorrow morning, which will mark the beginning of the 6th week of trial.  There’s no telling how long jury deliberations will take.  I didn’t get to follow the case as closely as I would have liked, but I expect the jury will be able to come to their verdict tomorrow.  There are a lot of jury instructions for them to go over, plus multiple charges and multiples degrees for them to sort through.

The State would like the jury to find him guilty not only of the premeditated murder, but also the Burglary and Child Abuse charges, as these would be aggravators when they argue for the death penalty.  Child Abuse does not require physical harm to come to a child, and can be based on the infliction of mental harm.  Burglary is simply entering a place he was not invited with the intent of committing a crime.  It seems the Defense was arguing hard against pre-meditation, as a conviction of the lesser murder charge could spare Dunn’s life.  The case for premeditation was circumstantial, but it is a fairly impressive case.

Robert Dunn found competent to stand trial – 11/26

Robert Dunn has been found competent to stand trial in his ongoing murder trial today.  Judge Margaret Steinbeck had appointed two mental health experts to evaluate him, and both experts testified today that they believed that he was competent.

The trial then returned to its previous state where Mr. Dunn had requested to change his plea.  Judge Steinbeck asked him where he stood on that request, and Mr. Dunn indicated that he changed his mind, and no longer wished to plead guilty at this time.  He did indicate he wants to represent himself at the penalty phase.  The judge said that issue would be discussed after the guilt phase, if that is necessary.  Closing arguments are slated to begin this afternoon.  Barring some unusual circumstance, they jury should receive the case by late this afternoon.

Thanks again to the News-Press for mentioning Crimcourts in their coverage!

What is incompetence to proceed?

Robert Dunn’s attorney has filed a motion to determine if his client is competent to proceed with the remainder of his 1st Degree Murder trial.  There’s always a lot of confusion about what incompetence means, so I wanted to do an informative post about it.

First, keep in mind that incompetence is not the same as insanity.  Competence has to do with whether or not a defendant is presently able to stand trial.  Insanity generally deals with their mental state at an earlier time: at the time the crime occurred.  The insanity defense argues that the defendant was so crazy at the time of the offense that they could tell right from wrong, basically.  It is actually pretty rare, in spite of hearing about it all the time in movies, because the level of insanity has to be very high, and it is an affirmative defense: that is, the Defense has to prove the defendant was insane.

When someone is incompetent to stand trial, they are not currently able to be tried due to their mental state.  This usually is related to their sanity, but can also be due other mental incapacities, such as learning disability, Alzheimer’s disease, or brain injury.  The Florida Eleventh Circuit has a handy breakdown on their website.  Defendants should be found incompetent if they do not:

  • understand the charges/allegations against them
  • comprehend the possible penalties
  • understand the adversary nature of the legal process
  • have the ability to disclose to an attorney pertinent facts that would aid in their defense
  • exhibit appropriate courtroom behavior
  • have the ability to testify relevantly

When an issue regarding competency arises, such as a defendant starts acting irrationally, or fails to continue communicating with their attorney, it is the attorney’s duty to address the issue with the court.  They do so by filing a motion, specifically stating their reasons for their concern.  Then it becomes the duty of the judge to order that the Defendant be evaluated, by up to 3 experts, who will then report back to the court to determine if the Defendant can stand trial, or continue with trial if it is already underway, as in the case of Robert Dunn.

If they are found incompetent, the judge will commit them to a facility for treatment if the Defendant is not suitable to be treated in the community.  The treatment will actually attempt to restore their competency if possible, at which point they will be brought back to court to conduct a trial.  They must be subject to continuing review to determine if they must remain committed, or to see if the case can return to court to be resolved (by trial or other resolution).

The court is hoping to have the expert reports by Monday to determine if the trial will be able to proceed.  If he is found competent, he could finish the trial, or enter a plea, as he has indicated is his desire.  If he is found to be incompetent, he would almost certainly be committed.  Additionally, the judge may not be convinced if the experts are not in agreement, and it’s possible a third evaluation could be ordered.  #robertdunn

Robert Dunn, 11/20: News-press story on competency motion

Alleged Day Care Killer Robert Dunn

Thanks to the and Mary Wozniak (@wozisme) for the shout out for Crimcourts in their Robert Dunn article today.  Yesterday, after Dunn’s attorney’s rested their case, they got in a dispute with him as he decided that he wanted to enter a guilty plea prior to closing arguments.  His attorney’s adamantly disagreed with this strategy, as he would have nothing to gain: he would still be facing a death penalty phase of the trial, whereas there is always the possibility of the jury finding him guilty of a lesser charge, or even not guilty.  He had nothing to lose at this point by letting the jury render a verdict as to the guilt phase of the trial.

After some deliberation with his client, Dunn’s attorney David Brener determined that he had sufficient doubt about whether or not his client remained competent to stand trial.  It is the duty of an attorney to request a review of their client’s competency when such an issue arises, and Brener brought it to the court.  Judge Margaret Steinbeck ordered an evaluation to be conducted.  As I said in the paper, I don’t believe this is trickery on behalf of the Defense team.  Nobody involved in the trial wants to spend the energy and effort exhausted so far to strike it and start over again.  The attorneys have a duty to report such issues to the court and seek an expert evaluation to determine if the client is possible: otherwise the verdict would be for naught, anyway.

This evaluation does not go to the Defendant’s guilt or innocence.  A competency evaluation is for the purposes of determining whether a defendant has the mental capacity to appreciate what is going on, and to participate meaningfully in his defense.  Ms. Wozniak asked if it is unusual for such a motion to be filed at this stage of a trial.  While it is rare that such a motion gets filed right before the case goes to the jury, it is not unusual for the issue to arise at any stage in a criminal proceeding.  The attorneys and the judge are proceeding cautiously to preserve an appropriate record and maintain the validity of the proceedings.  The experts will determine whether Mr. Dunn is sufficiently competent for his trial to proceed at this time.  There have been previous indications of issues concerning Mr. Dunn’s mental health, as I have mentioned previously on Crimcourts, so this motion is not entirely out of the blue.

Also, keep in mind this is different from insanity evaluation.  Doctors will try to determine if the defendant is presently able to stand trial, not whether he was insane at the time of the offense.  Regardless of their finding, this won’t make his charges go away or let him loose.  If he’s found incompetent, he will still face charges at a later time, once his competence is restored. #robertdunn

UPDATE: Just to demonstrate the problem with mental health issues, another Lee County client who was set to being trial this morning also had a competency evaluation ordered. 

Dunn’s case is set for a review next week to see if the trial can proceed.

Robert Dunn, 11/19 nearing conclusion

According to the News-Press, the Defense has rested.  Dunn has indicated a desire to plead guilty, and is discussing it with his attorney.  I doubt that he has much to gain by changing plea at this point: he might as well hear what the jury verdict is going to be.  There’s always a chance, even if slim, that the jury returns a lesser verdict (or even a not guilty). #robertdunn

Robert Dunn trial, 11/16

I haven’t been able to watch any of the trial itself since it started a couple days ago, but if you’re interested, WINK is blogging from the trial: