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By Lisa King
Mark Bruner, charged with the brutal beating in 2011 of a woman left by the side of the road, has pleaded guilty to first-degree assault in connection with that crime and will be facing at a long prison term.
Bruner, 39, whose jury trial was scheduled to begin Monday, pleaded guilty to that charge on Sept. 16, and Shelby Circuit Court Judge Charles Hickman has set a sentencing date for Oct. 23.
Bruner was indicted last year by a Shelby County Grand Jury in connection with the beating of Denisse Escareno on Nov. 5, 2011. He was arrested 10 days after Escareno, 24, was found beaten, stabbed and barely alive by passersby on the side of Mount Eden Road, about 2 miles south of Interstate 64.
Escareno was in a coma at the University of Louisville Hospital until Christmas Day 2011, when she opened her eyes. She has remained unresponsive, however, and was taken home to Arizona in February 2012 by her mother, Norma Zapien, who said doctors told her that her daughter never would recover mental awareness.
Shelby County Commonwealth Attorney Laura Donnell said Bruner’s guilty plea was unexpected and that her office had no made no plea agreements with him. She said that he pleaded guilty to his original charges, which also included tampering with physical evidence, a Class D felony.
“He pleaded guilty without a recommendation from our office,” Donnell said. “Nevertheless, we are pleased. This was our goal, that he be sentenced on his original charges.
Shelby County Sheriff’s Det. Jason Rice said that Bruner would be looking at a minimum of 11 years and a maximum of 25 years for the two felonies – first-degree assault carries a penalty of 10 to 20 years and tampering with physical evidence has a penalty of 1 to 5 years in prison.
“I’m glad it’s over so the family can get some closure,” Rice said. “He’s looking at a substantial number of years behind bars, and really, I’d rather not put it in the hands of a jury when you’ve got a solid amount of years that’s pretty much going to take him into the rest of his adult life.”
Rice added that Bruner would have to serve 85 percent of whatever sentence he receives from Hickman before he becomes eligible for parole.
Bruner, a resident of Taylorsville, has been behind bars since he was arrested, and he has had many court appearances leading up to pleading guilty.
Police have said Bruner had picked up Escareno in his truck while she was walking to a cellular-phone store on that Saturday afternoon and that she left the store with him. They haven’t said why he might have beaten her.
Detectives said in court that Escareno was stabbed in the chest and hip area with a screwdriver. Her other serious injury was a deep indentation in the area of her right eyebrow, which, they said, she could have received by jumping from Bruner’s vehicle.
Rice said that the charge of tampering with physical evidence comes from Bruner’s attempt to dispose of the weapon used in the assault.