In a 5-2 decision Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the first degree murder conviction of the jealous husband who shot a Missouri Southern State University football coach to death in front of hundreds of people at a Joplin movie theater in 2013.
The court did not buy into the argument that Jeffrey Bruner feared for his life when he killed offensive line coach Derek Moore.
Trial testimony told the story of a man who claimed he was driven to violence by an estranged wife who had strayed from their marriage one too many times.
Bruner was at McDonald’s with the couple’s teenage daughter when she showed him a Facebook photo of his wife standing in front of the Northpark 14 movie teacher. As he took his daughter home, he told her he did not want her to see him kill a man and that she probably “would not have a mom or dad by the end of the night.” Bruner armed himself with two loaded pistols.
When he arrived at the theater, he texted his daughter and asked her what clothing his wife was wearing and then he sat in his car and waited for them to emerge from the theater.
It only been two weeks since Bruner’s wife left him, saying she needed some space and moved into an apartment. It was not the first time they had separated, but they had always reconciled.
Trial testimony indicated Bruner did not give his wife the space she desired, visiting her every day or two and a couple of times even spending the night, but one day before he tracked her down at the theater he had a feeling things had changed. She was cold toward him and when he asked her if they could go out on a date the next night, she told him she had to work.
That was what he believed, he said, until his daughter showed him the Facebook photo.
Moore, 37, was in his first year at Missouri Southern, where he had relocated after coaching for 14 years, mostly in his native Iowa. Divorced with a seven-year-old son, he came to Missouri looking for a fresh start.
His November 1 theater outing with Dawn Bruner was their first date.
And their last.
As Bruner saw his wife and Derek Moore exiting the theater, he confronted them.
“This doesn’t have to do with you,” Bruner said to Moore. “I just want to talk to my wife.”
Moore answered, “She moved out, pal.”
Moore, who stood 6’5″, approached the smaller Bruner and told him he did not play “these redneck games” and added that Bruner did not know who he was messing with.
As Moore turned away momentarily, Bruner pulled a pistol from his jacket and shot him. Bruner emptied the gun into Moore’s back, then kicked him in the head as he lay dying.
As he waited for police to arrive, Bruner told those who had gathered at the scene, “They posted it all over Facebook. What’s a guy supposed to do?”
He told the people in the theater parking lot to call 911.
“I think I shot someone.”
Bruner was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.