Navy Petty Officer James Kuenn Convicted of the Cold Case Murder of Carol Hutto in Florida; Sentenced to Life, Possibility of Parole After 25 Years (2000)

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P.O. James Kuenn, US Navy

Navy Petty Officer James Kuenn, 40, was found guilty on February 9, 2000 for the first-degree murder of his teen girlfriend Carol Hutto on December 13, 1976 in Largo, Florida. Carol Hutto’s half-brother found her dead in a pond in the neighborhood; she was weighed down with cement blocks. An autopsy revealed Carol was hit and strangled, lost consciousness, and then thrown in the water alive. Initially, police suspected Carol’s half-brother committed the crime but they did not have enough evidence to charge him so the case went unsolved for nearly two decades. Then in 1994, two Largo Police Department investigators reopened the cold case.

The detective’s determination to find the killer led them to a former Largo resident who by then was an eleven year Navy veteran stationed at U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Connecticut. In 1996, DNA testing was making it’s way into police departments across the country so the investigators submitted several unknown hairs to the FBI lab. But they needed a sample of Kuenn’s DNA to see if it was a match. Investigator’s obtained a search warrant to get the DNA via a blood sample and used the interrogation to elicit a confession while they waited for the results. Since Kuenn was active duty Navy, detectives brought in the Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS) in Mayport, Florida to assist with the interrogation.

On July 15, 1998, the NCIS used the interrogation to push Kuenn into a confession. Investigators had no physical evidence linking Kuenn to the scene but that didn’t stop them from bluffing and hoping Kuenn would cave. Kuenn eventually admitted to investigators that the whole thing was an accident and he brought Carol to the lake to cover up the crime. Kuenn claimed that Carol tripped and fell and became unconscious so he took off her clothes to make it look like someone else did it. Despite Kuenn’s tears, detectives believed he was lying because Carol’s injuries did not come from an accidental trip and fall; they came from blunt force trauma and strangulation. Kuenn was charged with murder, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for twenty-five years.

“Kuenn recalled the fateful night when he and Carol met at the house under construction. They kissed but the young woman was reluctant to have sex with him. As she struggled, her screams rang out through the foggy night air. Kuenn, under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, hit her with a 2 by 4 to quiet her. He then dumped her in the pond, where she drowned, according to the autopsy.” –Tampa Bay Times

Related Links:
Teenager Murdered
Family and friends mourn murdered girl
Police stymied in Hutto murder case
Two Men Now Sought In Murder Of Carol Hutto
Unsolved Homicides Leave Legacy Of Pain
Sailor charged in 1976 death, jailed without bail
Sailor admits killing friend
After 24 years, he’s found guilty
Man Sentenced to Life in 1976 Slaying
Jury rejects accidental death claim, convicts man for 1976 murder
The victim’s mother lectures the killer, sentenced to life
TV show to look at ’76 Largo murder
TV show to detail search for killer
Police work of Jackson native to be featured on Investigation Discovery’s ‘Swamp Murders’
The Carol Hutto Case
Cold Case Files: Carol’s Diary | A&E
Swamp Murders: We Miss You Darling
Cold Case Files: Carol’s Diary


16-year-old Carol Hutto is a dependable friend, daughter and sister. She’s a good student, loves wrestling and hanging out with friends. So when she misses her curfew one evening, her mother knows something awful has happened. -Swamp Murders

 

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