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Police chief explains how murder case fell apart
Police chief explains how murder case fell apart: Fort Myers Police Chief Doug Baker describes why charges against Henry Brunson were dropped in the murder of 16-year-old Kansha Isaac. Video by Marisa Kendall/news-press.com
Doug Baker

Fort Myers police Chief Doug Baker believes he had the man who killed 16-year-old Kanasha Isaac, and said his officers did all they could to prove it.

Baker defended his department’s work Wednesday after the state attorney’s office pointed out flaws in the case, including in the investigative work. Henry Brunson was released from Lee County Jail on Tuesday, after the state attorney’s office dropped his second-degree murder charge. He had been accused of fatally shooting Isaac in the Fort Myers Ale House parking lot in February.

The case largely fell apart because the only cooperating witness changed her story multiple times, but the state attorney’s office also pointed a finger at the police department.

Detective Vincent Doyle discarded gunshot residue swabs taken from Brunson instead of submitting them into evidence, according to the state attorney’s office.

But Baker said Doyle did not really swab for gunshot residue. Such a test must be done immediately for it to be effective — not 8 to 10 hours after the crime, which was when police spoke to Brunson. The detective pretended to conduct a swab in order to asses the suspect’s reaction to the procedure, Baker said.

“The item that was discarded wasn’t evidence,” Baker said.

Still, Baker wishes Doyle had kept the fake swab, and the department will investigate whether he broke procedure by discarding it. No one, including Doyle, has been disciplined in the matter.

Walter Zalisko, a former New Jersey police chief who now runs Police Management Consultants International in Fort Myers, said it is ideal to conduct a gunshot residue swab half an hour to an hour after the crime. But particles can linger for hours after, especially in crevices of the hands if the defendant has dry skin.

Robert Harris, Brunson’s attorney, said he was under the impression the swab taken from Brunson was real, and wanted to use it as evidence in his case.

“When I spoke to the detective,” Harris said, “he said he took swabs of Henry Brunson’s hands for gunshot residue. He didn’t say it was a prop.”

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Once detained, Brunson invoked his right to an attorney almost immediately. But police continued to interview him for 50 pages, according to the state attorney’s office.

Baker said the department did nothing wrong — officers asked the defendant where he went to school and who his mother was.

“We didn’t ask him any more questions as it relates to the case,” Baker said. “And there’s nothing that prohibits us from talking about general information with the individual.”

Harris said he’s seen the transcript from that conversation and Baker’s claim isn’t true.

“It was an interrogation about Henry’s involvement,” Harris said. “They were trying to get him to confess to a murder.”

The transcripts from that interview are not public record, as the case remains open.

Zalisko said he’s had small talk with plenty of suspects after they invoked their right to an attorney. But Zalisko never recorded or transcribed that small talk, because it wasn’t part of the investigation. He wonders why Fort Myers police did, if they didn’t plan on using that information.

Second name

A second name was originally brought up in connection with Isaac’s murder, but was pushed aside as the case’s key witness changed her story.

The witness first said Baby J, later identified as James Brown, shot Isaac. The witness then changed her story to implicate Brunson.

Capt. Duke Perry on Tuesday said police never spoke to Brown about the murder.

On Wednesday, Baker said he didn’t know why not.

“I’m sure there was something very specific to that,” Baker said on Wednesday, “I just don’t have the answer to that right now.”

The investigation into Isaac’s killing cost the department about $220, which Brunson would have had to pay as part of his sentencing, according to court documents. Now the Police Department will be responsible for that cost.

Isaac's death

Isaac was leaving the Ale House after dinner with her boyfriend and several friends when she was shot in the head through the car’s rear window.

Her boyfriend had wanted to take her to dinner because they didn’t do anything for Valentine’s Day, he told police. Then they were supposed to go on a double date with friends.

As they were leaving the parking lot, one witness said he saw headlights coming toward them. Others said they didn’t see anything suspicious until the car pulled up in front of them, and someone rolled down the window and started shooting.

Witnesses told police Isaac was struck because she was the only one who couldn’t duck down in time — she had a friend’s 2-year-old daughter on her lap.

When it was over, there were seven bullet holes in the front, side and back of the car.

Perry said he didn’t think Isaac was specifically targeted — it was the group she was with.

Witnesses acknowledged to police the shooting could have been sparked by a feud between two Fort Myers neighborhoods.

Witnesses told police Isaac was three months pregnant, and police reports from the slaying claim the same. But an autopsy report released by the medical examiner’s office said she was not.

Isaac’s family could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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