Man who claimed self-defense sentenced for stabbing his ‘best friend’ to death in 2019
SALT LAKE CITY — A jury didn’t believe Jesse Bruce’s story about what happened on March 21, 2019, the night he stabbed Cory Haney to death.
In his own words Wednesday, Bruce called the killing he’s convicted of “a horrendous tragedy.”
“Two men’s choices and actions affected dozens and dozens of people negatively,” he said during his sentencing hearing.
Those two men – Bruce, now 44, and Haney, 40 – were living as roommates. Cory Haney’s family said he took Bruce in when Bruce needed a place to stay. Then, Bruce took Haney’s life.
According to charging documents, Bruce told investigators early on that he’d acted in self-defense and, “I killed my best friend for 25 years.”
“Cory did what he did, and I did what I had to do,” Bruce told the court Wednesday.
But that’s not how members of the jury saw it when they found him guilty of murder in June, and Third District Judge Richard McKelvie said Wednesday that he agreed with them.
“I don’t see any remorse here,” said McKelvie, “and I certainly don’t see any self-defense.”
McKelvie read aloud one of Bruce’s statements included in a pre-sentence report that he found to be especially telling:
“The defendant said, ‘I got a knife and was able to stand up on one leg. He (meaning Mr. Haney) came back into my room, raised his arms when he saw me standing there, so I stabbed him in the chest. We fell to the floor, and I stabbed him until he stopped moving.’”
McKelvie said he understood the statement to mean Haney raised his arms in a surrendering manner before Bruce stabbed him dozens of times. He sentenced Bruce to serve 16 years to life in prison.
“He didn’t just stab him, he butchered him,” said Kay Lynn Stafford, Haney’s mother.
Stafford prepared a victim impact statement to read during the hearing, but when only one representative from Haney’s family was permitted to make a statement, she urged Haney’s brother to speak instead.
She had planned to reference the medical examiner’s report which noted more than 60 sharp and blunt force injuries found on Haney’s body.
“It was a brutal, rage inflicted murder,” she told KSL.
For Haney’s parents, Wednesday’s sentencing felt like another blow.
“I do not feel the closure that I was hoping for for today,” said Marvin Bret Haney, Cory’s father.
He described Cory as a man who had a “real keen sense” of what he could control and what he could not. While he might be disappointed in how things have played out, his father said Cory would not have focused on issues beyond his reach.
“Cory knows that we’re here for him,” he said.
“I’m mad,” Stafford said. “I’m mad that Cory’s gone, that he’ll never be here.”
Stafford said outside of the jury’s guilty verdict, she’s felt let down by Utah’s justice system at almost every step. That includes a several-month delay in the case after Bruce attempted to use a new Utah self-defense law to get his charges dismissed without going to trial.
The KSL Investigators first reported on unintended consequences of the 2021 law for victims of crime.
But that law doesn’t apply to domestic violence cases, and prosecutors successfully argued the nature of Bruce and Cory’s relationship – as roommates – disqualified the case from the new legal process Bruce had hoped to use.
Still, Stafford has remained a critic of the law.
“It prolonged the process for us,” she said. “And it was very harmful to our family.” Bruce is also facing felony charges for allegedly threatening members of Cory’s family in November while he was out on bail. His next court hearing in that case is set for October.
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