The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

January 9, 2014

Jeffrey Bruner, accused killer of MSSU coach, bound over for trial

JOPLIN, Mo. — Dawn Bruner recalled in court Thursday how her husband, Jeffrey Bruner, confronted her and Missouri Southern State University assistant football coach Derek Moore as they emerged from a Joplin theater complex Nov. 1.

She said he blocked her way and told her: “I can’t believe you’d do this after 21 years. I can’t believe you’d post something on Facebook for your daughter to see and our friends.”

She said Moore interjected: “She’s moved out, pal.”

In tense testimony before a packed courtroom at her estranged husband’s preliminary hearing in Jasper County Circuit Court on murder charges, Dawn Bruner said she and Moore had started walking away when Moore looked back and added: “You don’t know who the f--- you’re messing with.”

She heard four shots and seemed to lose the hearing in one of her ears, she said. She never saw her husband pull out the gun and shoot the 37-year-old coach, she said. All she recalled seeing after the sound of the gunfire was Moore on the ground and her husband kicking him.

“I saw him kick his head after he was already down,” she told the court.

She crawled to Moore on her knees, she said, begging her husband to stop, which he finally did and walked away.

Dawn Bruner and a Joplin police detective were the lone witnesses called at the hearing, which ended with Jeffrey Bruner, 40, being bound over for trial on charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action.

Associate Circuit Judge Richard Copeland set Bruner’s initial appearance in a trial division of the court for Jan. 24. The defendant, a plant operator for Missouri American Water Co. in Joplin, has remained in custody without bond since his arrest the night of the shooting. He appeared at the hearing in street clothes and restraints. The judge granted a defense motion and set bond at $1 million after the preliminary hearing.

Dawn Bruner, an MSSU police officer, had moved out of the home she shared with her husband and their children before the shooting. She testified Thursday that she had planned on filing for a divorce in the spring.

“Are you fearful of your husband, Mr. Bruner?” Kimberly Fisher, assistant prosecutor, asked her.

“Now I am,” she said.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Ross Rhoades, she said she never heard Moore threaten to have Bruner’s throat slit before her husband shot him. Detective Randy Black testified that Bruner told him that Moore warned him that he did not know who he was “messing with” and that Moore would have Bruner’s throat slit within two hours.

While she did not recall hearing that specific threat, Dawn Bruner acknowledged that after the initial exchange of words, and before she and Moore had turned to go to their vehicle, the two men started arguing and cussing each other out. She said she stepped in between and got Moore to walk away with her.

Black testified that Bruner confessed to shooting Moore with one of two guns he had taken to the parking lot of the Northstar Stadium 14 theaters on Northpark Lane after seeing a photo of Moore and Dawn Bruner together that was posted on Facebook.

The detective said Bruner told him that he and his teenage daughter were at a McDonald’s restaurant when the girl, checking out her Facebook page on her smartphone, saw a picture of her mother in the company of Moore with a caption that read “Date Night.” The picture, posted on Moore’s Facebook page, was “tagged” with Dawn Bruner’s name and consequently popped up on her daughter’s page.

Dawn Bruner told the court that Moore had asked a woman to take the photo of them in front of the theater complex with his phone.

Black said the defendant acknowledged seeing the photo at the restaurant and taking his daughter home, where they looked it up a second time on a computer screen. Bruner admitted that he then grabbed two handguns, a Ruger LCP and a Glock, and headed for the theater complex with the intention of confronting the couple, the detective said.

The investigator said Bruner confessed to him that after he and Moore had words, Bruner pulled out the Ruger, shot Moore and kept pulling the trigger until the gun quit firing.

Defense attorney

ROSS RHOADES, defense attorney, said in court Thursday that he had received assurances from Prosecutor Dean Dankelson that no death penalty would be sought in the slaying of Derek Moore because the case lacked the requisite aggravating circumstances.

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