Man charged with slaying, setting homeless man ablaze to plead guilty to manslaughter

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff
Posted June 08, 2012, at 6:42 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The South Dakota man charged with slaying and setting ablaze a local homeless man camping along the Kenduskeag stream six years ago is scheduled to plead guilty to manslaughter at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Penobscot Judicial Center.

In exchange for his guilty plea, the prosecution and defense will recommend that Kenneth John Bruning be sentenced to 15 years in prison, with all but seven suspended, and four years of probation, according to defense attorney Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor.

In addition, the murder charge against Bruning, 26, of Rapid City, S.D., is expected to be dismissed.

Silverstein said earlier this week that Bruning will enter a so-called Alford plea. An Alford plea, named for the U.S. Supreme Court case North Carolina vs. Alford and decided in 1970, is “a guilty plea that a defendant enters as part of a plea bargain, without actually admitting guilt,” according to Black’s Law Dictionary.

“My client will admit that with the evidence the state has a jury could find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of manslaughter,” the defense attorney said.

Bruning’s trial on the murder charge was scheduled to begin July 30 at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.

If convicted of murder, Bruning would have faced a sentence of between 25 years and life. The maximum sentence for a manslaughter conviction is 30 years.

Trevor 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 in 2010 have not been released. It appears that once he was 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.

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

Bruning was serving a two-year sentence for burglary and possession of methamphetamine in South Dakota when he was indicted in November 2010 by the Penobscot County grand jury for murder.

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 fine for the assault.

He has been held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail since being returned to Maine from South Dakota a year ago. That time is expected to be credited to his manslaughter sentence.

CORRECTION:

An early version of this story said Kenneth John Bruning is from North Dakota. He is from South Dakota.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/06/08/news/bangor/man-charged-with-slaying-setting-homeless-man-ablaze-to-plead-guilty/ printed on December 19, 2014