Robert Dunn will spend the rest of his life in a prison cell about the size of the bathroom where he killed his estranged wife at a Cape Coral day care in 2008, as his lead attorney pointed out during closing arguments.
The same 12 jurors who convicted Dunn, 48, of first-degree murder last week returned a recommended sentence Friday of life in prison without parole — instead of the death penalty — after deliberating a little more than an hour.
Dunn shot his wife, Christine Dunn, 36, at Bobbie Noonan’s Child Care, where she worked for eight years. She had filed for divorce several months earlier. Five children, including the couple’s 2-year-old daughter, witnessed the incident.
Although Judge Margaret Steinbeck has the final say on Dunn’s sentence, prosecutors indicated they won’t challenge the jury’s decision. That means Dunn’s sentencing hearing, likely to occur next month, will be a mere formality.
When the sentence was read, Dunn stared straight ahead, expressionless — as he had been throughout the trial.
His lead attorney, David Brener, removed his glasses and wiped away tears of “joy and relief.” Even some jurors appeared to have been affected by the emotional weight of their decision.
Shirley Staubach, Dunn’s aunt, said she looks forward to a continued relationship with her nephew.
“I could just feel just like a flood going through me, just of relief,” Staubach said about the moment she learned Dunn’s life had been spared.
Her heart goes out to the victim’s family, she said, also noting the trial demonstrated how the mental health system had failed Dunn.
“He was crying out for help,” she said. “And it just didn’t seem to be there for him.”
Donald Barrett, one of three alternate jurors who did not participate in the jury’s deliberations, said afterward it was clear to him Dunn suffered from mental health issues, which in his mind was enough to rule out the death penalty.
Barrett said he put more faith in the testimony of the defense’s three mental health experts, who diagnosed Dunn with severe bipolar disorder, than the state’s lone expert, who said Dunn was enraged, not mentally ill, when he shot his wife.
But whether Dunn was hearing voices and suffering a psychotic break from reality at the time of the shooting wasn’t clear, he said.
“Only God and Mr. Dunn knows for sure,” he said.
Assistant State Attorney Marie Scalise, one of two prosecutors on the case, said the state’s main focus was to secure a first-degree murder conviction, which it did.
“We wanted justice for Christine Dunn and her family and we wanted to make sure that Robert Dunn never enjoyed any of the freedoms he previously had enjoyed before he gunned down his wife in front of his own child at her day care,” Scalise said.
Scalise, whose last name was still Doerr when jury selection began nearly eight weeks ago, married on Nov. 21, the day before Thanksgiving, while the trial was in recess. The ceremony was held in the same seventh-floor courtroom as the trial. Her co-counsel, Assistant State Attorney Bob Lee, officiated.
In closing arguments, Lee reiterated the state’s argument that Dunn had manipulated mental health professionals and sought to avoid responsibility for his actions.
Brener told the jury Dunn isn’t a cold-blooded killer, but a man whose diseased mind got the best of him.
“Robert Dunn is not truly wicked and evil,” he said. “He’s sick.”