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Jackson sentenced to death in 2007 murder of Seffner mom


Published:   |   Updated: June 6, 2013 at 05:18 AM

TAMPA - The mother of three had pink rollers in her hair when she went out for a morning jog.

Cuc Thu Tran left her mobile home in Seffner at 5:30 a.m. on Sept. 13, 2007. She would not be seen again until hours later.

By then, investigators said, Tran had been raped, stabbed in the throat and her corpse set on fire in a stolen van 13 miles away.

On Wednesday, the man convicted of Tran's slaying was sentenced to death.

Defense attorneys for Kenneth Ray Jackson, 30, had argued that his difficult childhood should weigh in favor of a life sentence rather than the death penalty. Prosecutors said the viciousness of the slaying of Tran, 50, justified execution.

In the end, Hillsborough County Circuit Judge William Fuente agreed with the jury's 11-1 recommendation that Jackson receive the death penalty.

The jury in November deliberated for 90 minutes before announcing its recommendation. The jury found that Jackson abducted Tran while she was jogging, then raped and killed her. Prosecutors said Tran was stabbed repeatedly in the throat in an attempt to silence her screams.

Jackson then drove 13 miles away in a stolen van and set Tran's body and the vehicle on fire. The body was so badly burned that investigators at first could not identify the race or gender.

One of Tran's three sons had reported her missing about 4 p.m. that afternoon.

Meanwhile, Jackson had fled to a town in the Panhandle, where investigators said he had friends and relatives. Detectives found him about two weeks later; a DNA sample from Jackson matched evidence found at the crime scene.

Prosecutors said Wednesday in court that Fuente's ruling gave justice to Tran's surviving family members. Tran's relatives did not return calls for comment.

Tran was a nail technician who worked hard and sacrificed for her children, according to a victim impact statement written by Tran's oldest son, Phuc.

The jury heard the statement during the penalty phase of Jackson's case.

Phuc Tran wrote that his mother was a boat person from Vietnam who was denied her dream to become a nurse when the Communist government learned that her father, a doctor, had treated American troops.

In contrast to the brutality of the slaying, Wednesday's hearing was clinical and by-the-numbers as Fuente read a list of the charges against Jackson.

A 15-year prison sentence for arson; a five-year sentence for burglary; and finally, "confinement in Florida State Prison until execution" on the charge of first-degree murder, Fuente said.

Jackson showed no emotion when Fuente announced his ruling. No relatives of Jackson or Tran attended the hearing, which lasted less than 20 minutes. Jackson did not say a word when bailiffs fingerprinted him, then led him out of the courtroom.

Although the death penalty is rare or being phased out in other states, Florida led the nation last year in the number of death sentences handed down.

Florida judges issued the death pentalty 21 times in 2012, followed by California with death sentences in 14 murder cases, Texas with nine and Pennsylvania with seven.

Those four states accounted for 65 percent of the death sentences handed down in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

rreyes@tampatrib.com

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