A jury on Wednesday said a landlord was guilty of second-degree murder in the 2019 shooting death of one of his tenants.
Sandwiched between his two lawyers, Jack Maro and Shane Bachman, Stanley Jensen shook his head from side to side, indicating no, when the court clerk made the announcement.
Sitting in the gallery behind the defense table was Jensen's sister, Julia. Her head was lowered after the verdict was read aloud.
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Reaction to the verdict
Circuit Judge Anthony Tatti said Jensen would be sentenced at a later date, following the completion of a pre-sentence investigation. Wearing a suit and tie, as he had throughout the trial, Jensen was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom by a bailiff.
From there, he was transferred to the Marion County Jail. Before Jensen left, his family members took some of his possessions.
Outside the courtroom, Maro said the defense was "disappointed in the jury's verdict." He said "it was a difficult case."
Maro said the case was unique, as it had many layers, including self-defense and landlord/tenant laws. He said a good portion of time was invested by the defense, prosecution and judge crafting language for the jury instructions.
Assistant State Attorney Sasha Kidney thanked the jurors for their hard work.
Jensen's sister said she's "devastated." She said she doesn't fault her brother for what he did. She said she was very surprised at the verdict, adding of the jury: "They were wrong."
Aphrodite Hughes, Jensen's mother, said there's so much she wants to say but could not put it in words. She said she's saddened.
Hughes and Julia Jensen attended the two-day trial, which ended about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. There were no representatives from the victim's family.
Defense maintains self-defense theory
The defense contention was that Jensen, now 60, owned the rental property in question and had a right to be there the day in October 2019 when he shot and killed tenant Marc Bruss, 49. The defense lawyers said Bruss had threatened Jensen, and Jensen defended himself.
According to the defense, Jensen had concerns about possible drug activity at his rental property, which is near his own residence. He also said Bruss had not paid his rent.
Jensen and another tenant, who also lived on the property, had removed Bruss' clothing and other belongings from the residence and placed them outside. Bruss was angry and expressed his frustration at Jensen, according to testimony given during the trial. Jensen said Bruss threatened him with a machete.
A sheriff's deputy was called to the home before the shooting. The deputy told Jensen that he could not throw out Bruss without first going to the courts and filing an eviction notice. Until then, the deputy said, Jensen should not return to the property.
But Jensen did. He went to the residence because he said he came home and saw two people, a man and woman, at the home. He said they never had permission to be in the home and he told them to leave.
Closing arguments: 'My way or the highway'
In her closing argument to jurors, Kidney said Jensen took the attitude of "it was my way or the highway." She said he was angry and knew what he wanted to do that day.
"He was going to get him (Bruss) one way or another," the prosecutor said.
The defense said Jensen was scratched when Bruss lunged at the landlord. But Kidney said there was no evidence of any mark on Jensen.
In his closing argument, Maro said there were no eyewitnesses and the exchange between the men was fast. Although the victim was shot six times – twice in the side and four times in the back – Maro said neither a crime scene reconstructionist nor the medical examiner could tell the sequence of shots.
"He (Jensen) tells you he was grabbed. This is someone who has been attacked," Maro said.
The lawyer suggested that Bruss was acting irrationally and violently because of drugs. The medical examiner had testified that Bruss had a high amount of methamphetamine in his system.
Maro said his client did not hide the fact that some of the statements he made were wrong. The lawyer also said law enforcement officials should have collected DNA or fingerprints from the machete Bruss reportedly had when Jensen was being attacked.
Jensen speaks to a Star-Banner reporter
While the jury was deliberating his fate, Jensen told a Star-Banner reporter outside the courtroom that he hoped the panel would find him not guilty.
"I'm nervous. I'm holding my life in someone else's hands," he said.
As for his inconsistent statements when he was on the stand, Jensen said he tends to ramble, but he was telling the truth about Bruss coming at him with a machete.
He said he regrets the incident and was only there that fateful day to protect the other tenant, who was in mid-60s and disabled.
"We're friends," he said about that man. "I thought he (the other tenant) was in the house. I was trying to protect him."
In his testimony, Jensen said he was in his house when he heard his dog barking. Going outside, Jensen heard someone talking and believed Bruss was talking to the roommate. He said when he went over there, Bruss saw him and the shooting occurred.
Asked if he was found guilty what he would do, Jensen said he would appeal. He said Maro did a good job of presenting his case.
Jurors had a request
Initially, there were eight jurors. Two were alternates, and they were excused once deliberations began. The alternates stayed around, waiting for the decision and sitting inside the courtroom. They declined to speak with a Star-Banner reporter.
Jurors left the courtroom close to 3:20 p.m. to deliberate after receiving their instructions. An hour into their discussion, jurors had a request: They wanted to hear the 911 tape – Jensen had called 911 to report the shooting – one more time. It was played for them and they returned to the jury room around 4:30 p.m.
By 5:21 p.m., they had made up their minds. Minutes later, jurors entered the courtroom one by one. Tatti was handed the verdict form, but it wasn't dated. The foreman was handed the paper and he signed the document, which was given to the clerk and read aloud at 5:26 p.m.
Contact Austin L. Miller at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Ocala Star-Banner: Jury in Ocala, Florida finds landlord guilty of second-degree murder