Jury finds man guilty of murder in 2019 stabbing of his ‘best friend’
SALT LAKE CITY — A man who killed his landlord in 2019 was found guilty of first-degree felony murder Tuesday by a jury.
Jesse Joel Bruce, 44, stabbed his housemate Cory Haney, who was 40, to death in 2019 in a house in Salt Lake City’s Avenues neighborhood at 797 E. Northcliffe Drive.
When police entered the home the two men lived in on the early morning hours of March 21, 2019, they heard Bruce yelling for help and saying things like, “He tried to kill me,” and “I killed him,” and “My leg is broke.”
Bruce was treated at a hospital for a broken leg and reportedly talked about the confrontation there.
“I just killed someone. I killed my best friend for 25 years,” he said. Police found Haney in a hallway at the home, dead with multiple stab wounds to his head and neck. Investigators said evidence found there didn’t match Bruce’s self-defense story.
Bruce will face sentencing Sept. 7 at 2 p.m. in Third District Court in Salt Lake City with Judge Richard McKelvie.
The case tested a Utah self-defense law, HB227, that some say is having unintended consequences in court and in crime. KSL Investigates included the case in its look at the bill.
Under the 2021 law, people claiming self-defense now have an opportunity to get their charges dismissed without going to trial. Defendants can request a justification hearing in which prosecutors must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant did not act in self-defense or in the defense of others.
One exception to the defense law is in cases of domestic violence. Prosecutors successfully argued that since the men lived in the same house, the killing should fall under the domestic violence exception to the bill, even though they are not romantic partners.
If prosecutors cannot prove that an individual’s use of force was not justified during the limited, pretrial hearing, the case is dismissed before it ever goes to a jury and prosecutors are barred from refiling charges.
Haney’s mother, Kay Lynn Stafford, was a vocal critic of the HB227, telling the KSL Investigators that despite the creativity of prosecutors assigned to the case, her family has still suffered unintended consequences of the new law.
Once free on bail before trial, Bruce was later arrested for investigation of two counts of retaliation against a witness, victim or informant — a third-degree felony. Police say he sent messages to two family members of the man he was accused of killing.
Bruce’s murder trial was initially set for early 2020, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, everything was put on hold, except for his request to lower his bond.
Before his second arrest, Bruce’s bail was lowered from $1 million to $250,000, which he posted in late July 2020. The judge stipulated at the time in that meeting that Bruce wear an ankle monitor and have no contact with victims or witnesses.
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