Justice is better served if Cowboys player is granted probation

Posted Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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sanders Your honor, I rise to speak on behalf of the defendant, Josh Brent.

No, I don't know him. And before Dec. 8, I doubt that I could have picked him out of a Dallas Cowboys' team photo or a police lineup. However, I am familiar with the charges against him.

Before I make my case, I'll admit that many people see me as a "bleeding heart" -- a person who doesn't want to see any individual go to jail. In fact, some folks think that I want everyone behind bars set free, totally emptying the nation's penitentiaries.

Believe me, there are plenty of people who deserve to be locked up, and there are some mean, heartless, evil individuals who I thank God every day are in somebody's prison.

But there are others who ought not to be in jail, even though they may have committed a crime in the eyes of the state. Just this past week, I waited outside a Tarrant County courtroom with a father whose ex-Marine son is in jail but who would be better served if he were allowed to remain in society where he could receive much-needed mental health treatment. Our hope is that a judge soon will agree.

For Brent, charged with intoxication manslaughter in the death of friend and teammate Jerry Brown, prison ought not to be in his future. After all, I can't imagine the state punishing him any more than he's punishing himself.

Rest assured I do not stand in his defense because he's a football player or because, as some might suppose, I think he should not be held accountable for his obviously irresponsible acts. I simply want what is best for him; what is just.

The facts of his case are disturbing. Brent, 25, was arrested for DWI three years ago in Illinois and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence. He had a suspended driver's license.

On the night of the one-car accident that resulted in Brown's death, Brent had been drinking at two different nightclubs, according to news reports. Irving police said Brent had a blood-alcohol level of .18 percent, more than twice the legal limit, and that he was driving at speeds over 110 mph. Neither he nor his passenger was wearing a seat belt, police said.

Brent should not have been behind the wheel of a car that night, drunk or sober. He certainly was not setting a good example for his 25-year-old friend, whom he had taken under his wing. His actions, which led to Brown's death, could have resulted in the death or injury of others.

I in no way excuse his behavior, and it's a shame his other teammates and friends who were with him allowed him to drive that night.

But nothing we can say or do now can change what happened. Perhaps something can be done to save Brent.

Brown's family has been supportive of Brent. During her son's funeral, Stacey Jackson reportedly asked Brown's teammates to look after him and keep him involved with the Cowboys. His fellow players were doing that when they invited him to be on the sideline in the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. That was a great gesture, I thought, but because of negative feedback Brent left the sideline in the third quarter, and he was later barred for the rest of the season.

Brent's lawyers have asked Dallas County prosecutors to consider probation for him, noting that Brown's family supports it.

So far, the district attorney's office has indicated it will proceed with a trial and let a jury decide Brent's fate.

Would it be so terrible to allow him to plead guilty in exchange for a probated sentence? He could become a very effective spokesman against driving while intoxicated.

He would make a much better example out of prison than behind bars.

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.

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Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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