RUBIN J. BROOKS, JR., Appellant,
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.
FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF
from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; William
L. Dimmig, Public Defender and Steven G. Mason, Special
Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellant.
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Kiersten E.
Jensen, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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 ...