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Life in prison recommended for convicted murderer

By Staff | Dec 11, 2012

After hearing days of testimony last week, a jury recommended life in prison for a Cape Coral man convicted of murdering his estranged wife in 2008.

Robert Harold Dunn, 48, of 626 S.E. 10th Ave., was found guilty Nov. 27 of first-degree murder in the death of Christine Dunn. Jurors also convicted him of child abuse and first-degree burglary while armed with a firearm.

On Friday, the 12-member Lee County jury recommended a life sentence to Lee Circuit Judge Margaret Steinbeck over the death penalty.

“The jury came back with a life recommendation after hearing four full days of testimony regarding mitigating circumstances,” Fort Myers attorney David Brener, one of the two attorneys who represented Dunn, said Tuesday.

“I was extremely pleased both for Mr. Dunn and because the jury decided that it would be inappropriate to sentence a mentally ill person to death,” he added.

Jurors deliberated for nearly two hours before coming to a decision.

“They obviously had to look at a number of pieces of evidence that we had introduced,” he said.

Brener explained that Dunn was misdiagnosed for years with depression, or even personality disorder, but he actually suffers from bipolar disorder.

“Because of the taboo of mental illness and the stigma attached to it in certain families and cultures, the issue was never really properly addressed,” he said.

While presenting its case during the sentencing phase, the defense provided the jury with incidents of Baker Acts, involuntary depression and manic behavior involving Dunn. Three experts testified to his disorder.

Brener added that medical records showed Dunn had a “mental health breakdown” in the months before the murder. On the wrong medication due to being misdiagnosed, he attempted to seek help but was turned away.

“He had asked for a change in his medication, he had asked for help – he was turned away and told to go to Ruth Cooper,” he said.

On Friday, the prosecution stated that it would not seek to override the recommendation. Brener explained that the defense presented 99 mitigating circumstances, and the state started with five aggravating circumstances.

“It was only able to argue to the jury two of those,” he said. “This makes it hard for the court to override the jury’s recommendation.”

Brener expects that Dunn will receive mandatory life without parole.

The formal sentencing will likely be in January. Despite facing life, the law requires that a pre-sentencing investigation be ordered on the other counts.

The maximum sentence for armed burglary is life in prison, with a minimum of 25 years based on the 10-20-Life law. The abuse charge is five years.

Brener anticipates that the state will ask for the maximum on both.

Dunn’s mother, sister and aunt were present in the courtroom Friday when the recommendation was read. His aunt expressed relief at the decision.

“Mr. Dunn had very little outward signs of emotion, one way or another, and that’s in my view part of his disorder,” Brener said of his client’s reaction.

The State Attorney’s Office did not return a message seeking comment.

Attorney Tracey Redd also represented Dunn.

On Jan. 25, Dunn broke into the locked back entrance to Bobbie Noonan’s Child Care Facility, at 1217 Cape Coral Parkway, W., and shot his estranged wife twice – once in the side of the neck and a second time in the chest.

Christine Dunn was a teacher at the facility. She and other teachers hid inside bathrooms with the children as Dunn broke into the center with a gun in hand. He shot his wife in one of the bathrooms in front of some youth.

None of the children or other adults were injured in the incident.

A parent at the facility eventually wrestled the gun away from Dunn.