Josh Brent should go to prison because when he was convicted of drunken driving in 2009 in Illinois, he didn’t learn his lesson from two years on probation, Dallas prosecutors told a jury on Thursday.
Brent, a former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle, was convicted Wednesday of intoxication manslaughter in the death of his friend and teammate Jerry Brown in a fiery one-car wreck in Irving in 2012.
The sentencing phase of Brent’s trial began Thursday. The maximum sentence on the charge is 20 years in prison. Brent is eligible for probation, and his attorneys argued that he deserves that.
Attorneys concluded their cases Thursday, and the case went to the jury about 3:30 p.m. Jurors were sent home an hour later. Deliberations are scheduled to resume Friday morning.
Brent, who was free on bail until his conviction Wednesday, was taken back to the Dallas County Jail.
On a piece of paper tacked to a courtroom wall, prosecutor Heath Harris wrote the words mercy and justice.
The letters “me” were circled in the word mercy and the letters “us” in the word justice.
“This is about justice, the quest for justice, the search for justice,” Harris said. “When you focus on mercy, the focus is on me. When [Josh Brent] makes that 911 call, the focus is all on me. He doesn’t consider Jerry.”
Harris was referring to a 911 call Brent made after he lost control of his Mercedes on a Texas 114 service road in Irving and the car rolled over and caught fire. Brent and Brown were on their way home from a Dallas nightclub about 2:20 a.m. Dec. 8 after partying with other Cowboys. Two of the other Cowboys had designated drivers, or Brent could have easily afforded a cab, Harris said.
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.
It wasn’t the first time Brent got caught speeding while driving drunk, prosecutor Rebecca Dodds said. In 2009, while attending the University of Illinois, Brent was convicted of drunken driving and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and then two years on probation with community service.
That was a waste of time, Dodds said.
The Illinois court said, ‘I’ll give you a reality check’ ” Dodds told jurors. “ ‘I’ll put you in jail for 30 days.’ But what you learned today is that that doesn’t work for Josh Brent.”
Defense attorney Kevin Brooks told the jury that in Dallas County, there are 34 people convicted of intoxication manslaughter who are on probation with the acquiescence of the Dallas County district attorney’s office. The only difference between those people and Josh Brent is that he played for the Cowboys.
The mother of the man Brent killed wants mercy for Brent, Brooks reminded the jury in his closing argument.
“I forgive Josh,” Stacey Jackson, Brown’s mother, had testified earlier. “He’s still responsible, but you can’t go through life holding a grudge. You go on and live your life and learn your lessons. I’m sure that’s what Jerry would have wanted.”
Life before pro football
Brent retired from football last year and is working in a warehouse packing boxes, his uncle, Roland Brent, testified.
Roland Brent said Josh Brent grew up in Bloomington, Ill. He had a strained relationship with his mother, who developed a crippling disability when he was a junior in high school, and he never had a relationship with his father, the uncle testified.
Brent lived with his uncle for a while and later moved in with a high school classmate when the relationship with his mother became untenable, Roland Brent said.
“I’m aware of two times that Josh talked to his dad,” Roland Brent said. “Once they met in person and once they talked on the phone.”
At more than 300 pounds and 6 feet 2, Roland Brent said, his nephew’s size may intimidate some people, but he described Josh Brent as a teddy bear who sometimes acted like a teenager.
Brown was a year ahead of Josh Brent in college, but they became fast friends, Roland Brent said.
“They called each other ‘brother’ and shared everything,” the uncle said.
After the fatal crash, his nephew was emotionally devastated, Roland Brent said.
“I had never seen him like that,” Roland Brent said. “I didn’t want to leave him alone.”
Carla Suber, an education specialist who counseled both Brent and Brown during their college careers, testified that the pair was close and that Brent was remorseful about the wreck.
“The heaviness I hear, that I still hear, I think it will always be there,” Suber said.