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Brooks v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

May 16, 2018

RUBIN J. BROOKS, JR., Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; William Fuente, Judge.

          Howard L. Dimmig, Public Defender and Steven G. Mason, Special Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Kiersten E. Jensen, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.

          LUCAS, Judge.

         Faye Kitchen and Shannon Thomas (a/k/a "Funko") were found dead inside Ms. Kitchen's home in the early evening hours of November 12, 2011. Police detectives investigating the scene suspected they had likely been beaten to death, and the ensuing investigation would reveal a trail of evidence that appeared to implicate Rubin Brooks. In addition to that evidence, the State called a former cellmate of Mr. Brooks who recounted Mr. Brooks offering a late night, confessional prayer about the two victims. Because the circuit court deprived Mr. Brooks of the opportunity to impeach that former cellmate's testimony, we must reverse the final judgments and convictions of first-degree murder and remand this case for a new trial.

         Mr. Brooks and Funko had a history of drug transactions with one another in Plant City, the latter selling the former crack cocaine on some occasions, while on other occasions, Mr. Brooks would act as a middleman for Funko. But the two had something of a falling out when Funko put a gun to Mr. Brooks' mouth in what may have been a dispute over money.

         A few days later, however, in the predawn hours of November 12, 2011, the two men were together again, taking part in an extended sale of crack cocaine to a third party in a mobile home in Plant City. Having sold all they could, at around 5:30 a.m., they were dropped off at Ms. Kitchen's house in Plant City to make more crack. This was the last time Funko was seen alive. A medical examiner determined that Funko and Ms. Kitchen were likely killed in their sleep inside Ms. Kitchen's home; it was later stipulated that both victims died on November 12, 2011.

         A little after 7:30 a.m. that same day, one of Ms. Kitchen's neighbors recalled speaking with Mr. Brooks (Mr. Brooks had helped himself to a bottle of the neighbor's lighter fluid); and shortly after that, Mr. Brooks was seen walking away from a smoking barrel in a neighboring yard. The same witness from whom Mr. Brooks had borrowed lighter fluid recalled Mr. Brooks later approaching him and saying, "Funko pulled a gun on me and I was scared but I'm not scared anymore." Another witness, a longtime friend of Mr. Brooks, would also testify that on the morning of November 12, Mr. Brooks was acting "hysterical" and that Mr. Brooks had stated that he and Funko had "had a little confrontation."

         Inside the aforementioned barrel, investigators would find a red sweater and blood-stained black pants, a broken knife handle, two dumbbell handles, and a piece of lumber. A witness remembered seeing Mr. Brooks wearing the same sweater on the night of November 11. When tested, it was determined that the sweater contained Funko's DNA and a partial profile that included Mr. Brooks' DNA. As to the knife handle, Funko's body was found with a partial knife blade in his chest; a Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime laboratory analyst conducted a fracture match analysis and concluded that the two parts-the blade and the handle-were at one time a single piece. The two dumbbell handles in the barrel were shaped in such a way that appeared to resemble the head wounds found on Funko's and Ms. Kitchen's bodies.[1]

         The State charged Mr. Brooks with two counts of first-degree murder. On the third day of his jury trial, after having presented the aforementioned evidence, the State called Edward Thomas as a witness. Mr. Thomas was a former cellmate of Mr. Brooks while Mr. Brooks was in custody awaiting trial. Mr. Thomas testified that late one night, while they were bunked together, he overheard Mr. Brooks praying aloud and apologizing to God for what had happened to Ms. Kitchen. Mr. Thomas, apparently awoken by Mr. Brooks' praying, engaged in a conversation with Mr. Brooks about the subject of his prayer, which he recounted to the jury:

And he [Mr. Brooks] said Funko did some fucked up shit and, you know I went to - every time I asked him a question he would just you know go at his own pace, you know, so I just let him have the floor . . . and then he said Funko had pulled a gun on him in front of some guys.
. . . .
Q. Did he ultimately say what he did to ...

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