Former Dallas Cowboy Josh Brent was convicted Wednesday of intoxication manslaughter for driving drunk and causing the death of a friend and teammate in a wreck on an Irving freeway in December 2012.
Brent’s relatives broke down in tears after the verdict was read just before 4 p.m. in a packed courtroom that included Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins.
Among those sitting with Brent’s family was Stacey Jackson, the mother of Jerry Brown, 25, the friend killed in the fiery single-car wreck.
Brent, 25, was handcuffed and returned to the Dallas County Jail.
Jackson did not respond to questions as she left the courtroom with Brent’s family. But she has said in interviews that she has forgiven Brent and could testify in support of a lighter sentence.
Jurors deliberated about 10 hours over two days. They were sequestered Tuesday night but were allowed to go home Wednesday evening. They are due back this morning to begin hearing evidence in the sentencing phase.
The maximum sentence is 20 years in prison, but Brent is eligible for probation.
Prosecutors have indicated that they will ask for jail time. Watkins told a sports radio station last year that prosecutors had the responsibility to make sure Brent “loses his freedom.”
Attorneys for both sides remain under a gag order that prevented them from commenting after the verdict.
Brent retired from the NFL last year, but his ties to the Cowboys were visible during the trial. Current players Barry Church and Danny McCray testified about hanging out with Brent and Brown, first playing video games, then having dinner and going to Privae, a Dallas nightclub. Sean Lee, a Cowboys linebacker, attended part of the trial to show support for Brent.
“We understand the very serious nature of this situation and express our concerns for all of the families and individuals that have been affected by the tragedy of Jerry Brown’s death,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in an emailed statement.
Prosecutors Jason Hermus and Heath Harris presented evidence that on the night of Dec. 7, 2012, Brent and Brown were out partying with other Cowboys. They were on their way home from a Dallas club about 2:20 a.m. Dec. 8 when Brent lost control of his Mercedes on a Texas 114 service road in Irving. The car rolled over and caught fire.
Brent was driving as fast as 110 mph, prosecutors said, and his blood-alcohol content was 0.18, more than twice the legal limit for driving in Texas. Brent, a 320-pound defensive tackle, had up to 17 drinks that night, according to testimony.
Jurors saw video of Brent appearing to hold bottles of champagne in each hand, as well as credit card receipts showing that had bought three bottles. They also saw police dash-cam footage of Brent losing his balance during field sobriety tests after the wreck and occasionally stumbling over his words while talking to officers.
During closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutors called this a textbook case of intoxication manslaughter. They urged jurors to send a message about the danger posed by drunken drivers.
Hermus stood in front of Brent, hit the table and shouted: “They shouldn’t be driving. No exceptions, no excuses!”
Brent’s attorneys said that the blood tests were faulty and that Brent couldn’t have consumed as much alcohol as prosecutors contend.
Attorney George Milner argued that the tall, lumbering Brent could drink more than the average person without becoming intoxicated.
“Josh Brent is as big as a house,” Milner said. “He’s got a heart — better yet a mind — of a person much younger than he really is.”
Milner also argued that no person could have passed a field sobriety test after the fiery wreck.
“He is guilty of being stupid behind the wheel of a car,” Milner said. “He is guilty of driving too fast.”
A native of Bloomington, Ill., Brent was arrested in February 2009 for drunken driving and was suspended indefinitely from the University of Illinois football team during his sophomore season. Brent pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 60 days in jail, two years’ probation, 200 hours of community service and a fine of about $2,000. He completed his probation in July 2011, according to earlier news reports. Brent returned to the team for his junior season.
The Cowboys selected him in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft. A defensive tackle, he played in all 12 games of the 2012 season. He retired in July.
Brent and Brown were friends and teammates at Illinois. Brown was a linebacker who had been signed to the Cowboys’ practice squad.