St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Trial begins today in 24-year-old slaying case

Carol Hutto was 16 when she was choked, bludgeoned and drowned. More than two decades later, modern detective work brings her high school boyfriend to trial.

By ERIC STIRGUS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 8, 2000


LARGO -- The year was 1976. Jimmy Kuenn was a lanky, blond-haired, 17-year-old who played in Largo High School's prestigious Band of Gold and was known around school as a gentleman.

Carol Hutto was a 16-year-old who hung with a close circle of friends but was frustrated by a boy who did not give her the attention she felt she deserved.

"Why do I have to be in love with a creep?" Hutto wrote in her diary, wondering about Kuenn.

On a December night that year, prosecutors say, the relationship between the two teenagers went terribly wrong. Hutto's half-naked body was found in a shallow lake.

Kuenn went on to a life as a U.S. Navy petty officer aboard a submarine in Connecticut.

But because of advancements in DNA testing, Largo investigators say, they collected evidence that led them to charge Kuenn, who police say confessed to the crime in 1998.

Starting today, Kuenn, 40, a brown-haired, soft spoken, bespectacled man, will try to convince a jury of eight men and four women that Hutto's death was an accident and he should not be convicted of first-degree murder.

"He didn't intend the death of Carol Hutto, and everything that happened was a juvenile attempt to point fingers at somebody other than himself," Kuenn's attorney, Scott McCluskey, said Monday.

But prosecutors say they are confident that a wealth of evidence will show Kuenn did intend to kill Hutto.

Either on the night of Dec. 13 or the early morning hours of Dec. 14, the two were in a neighborhood house under construction when Kuenn choked Hutto after she asked him to stop in the middle of having sex, prosecutors say. Kuenn then hit Hutto over the head with a 2-by-4 to silence her scream, investigators say.

Thinking she was dead, Kuenn dumped Hutto in a pond beside the house, where police found her drowned the next day, according to prosecutors.

Largo police considered Kuenn to be a suspect from the beginning. But it wasn't until 1998 that investigators matched DNA samples with Kuenn, prosecutors say.

On Monday, Kuenn's attorneys tried to suppress some evidence collected by police in the case. At an afternoon hearing, attorneys argued over whether a confession made by Kuenn in 1998 should be admitted.

Prosecutors argued that Kuenn waived his Miranda rights before giving his confession. In brief testimony, Kuenn said he talked to investigators because he feared he would lose his security clearance aboard a vessel he was to be assigned to.

"You don't have a choice" but to talk, Kuenn said.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Philip Federico denied the defense motion.

"The bottom line is (Kuenn) did not invoke (Miranda rights) when the opportunity was presented," the judge said.

Prosecutors said they expect to call Largo detectives and the dead woman's relatives as witnesses today.


-- Information from Times files was used in this report.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.