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Man pleads not guilty to setting transient on fire 5 years ago

Posted June 22, 2011, at 10:05 a.m.
Last modified June 22, 2011, at 4:51 p.m.
Kenneth John Bruning consults his defense attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein, right before his arraignment at Penobscot Judicial Center Wednesday, June 22, 2011. The South Dakota native was returned to Maine last week and charged with setting a homeless man on fire along the Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor more than five years ago.
Kenneth John Bruning consults his defense attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein, right before his arraignment at Penobscot Judicial Center Wednesday, June 22, 2011. The South Dakota native was returned to Maine last week and charged with setting a homeless man on fire along the Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor more than five years ago.
Kenneth John Bruning, 25, turned towards his defense attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein (center) before being escorted out the courtroom at Penobscot Judicial Center after his arraignment Wednesday, June 22, 2011. The South Dakota native was returned to Maine last week and charged with setting a homeless man on fire along the Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor more than five years ago.
Kenneth John Bruning, 25, turned towards his defense attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein (center) before being escorted out the courtroom at Penobscot Judicial Center after his arraignment Wednesday, June 22, 2011. The South Dakota native was returned to Maine last week and charged with setting a homeless man on fire along the Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor more than five years ago.

BANGOR, Maine — The South Dakota inmate charged with setting a homeless man on fire along the Kenduskeag Stream more than five years ago pleaded not guilty to intentional or knowing murder Wednesday morning at the Penobscot Judicial Center.

Kenneth John Bruning, 25, of Rapid City, S.D., is charged in the death of Trevor Sprague, 34, of Lubec in March 2006.

A trial date has not been set.

Sprague’s mother, Sonia Olson, and her husband, George Olson, both of Lubec, attended the arraignment but declined to speak to reporters.

Bruning, a South Dakota native and member of the Lakota Indian tribe, waived a bail hearing.

Last month he waived extradition from South Dakota, where he was serving a two-year sentence for burglary and possession of methamphetamine, according to his attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor.

The time he is held at the Penobscot County Jail awaiting trial on the murder charge will be credited toward his South Dakota sentence, Silverstein said outside the courthouse after the arraignment.

Silverstein said his client may have mental health problems and it was possible Bruning’s plea would be changed to not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.

“Mr. Bruning has not made any admission or confession,” the attorney told reporters. “I understand there may be forensic evidence that indicates he was at the scene [of Sprague’s death].”

Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson declined Wednesday to comment on the case.

Although police have not said what led them to Bruning, it appears that once convicted of a felony in South Dakota, his DNA was placed in a national database. It’s possible that DNA from the crime scene in Maine matched Bruning’s DNA once it was in the database.

Maine collects DNA from individuals convicted of felonies but not misdemeanors.

In October 2009 in Bangor District Court, Bruning was convicted of a misdemeanor assault that occurred at what is now the Hope House, a homeless shelter near the University of Maine at Augusta, Bangor campus. The assault took place two weeks after Sprague’s death, according to previously published reports.

In addition to the murder charge, Bruning is facing a local charge of failure to pay the for fine the assault.

Bruning was returned to Maine late Friday night and taken to the Penobscot County Jail by two Bangor police detectives.

Sprague’s body was found face down and on fire under the Harlow Street Bridge on March 7, 2006. The 34-year-old Lubec native and Bangor transient was known to camp along the Kenduskeag Stream.

Details about the circumstances surrounding Sprague’s death and what led investigators to Bruning have not been released.

Bangor police confirmed last year that Bruning was a member of Bangor’s transient population when Sprague was killed.

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