A 31-year-old mother of three who was out for a night on the town two years ago was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Wednesday for getting drunk and causing a wreck that killed a 20-year-old reservist.
Beth Branum of Granbury was convicted of intoxication manslaughter Tuesday. On Wednesday, the jury recommended the maximum sentence.
Because the jury found that her vehicle was a deadly weapon, Branum will have to serve half of her sentence before she becomes eligible for parole.
Branum has been in jail since February 2015. Two of her three children, who range in age from four to 11, live with their father in Missouri, and the third lives in North Texas with relatives, according to George Mackey, one of Branum’s attorneys.
“This is a tragedy all the way around,” Mackey said. “These are good people. Now both their families are devastated.”
Patrick McCarty, who also represented Branum, asked the jury for probation during the punishment phase of the trial. Branum was eligible for probation since she had not previously been convicted of a felony.
“Probation is hard,” McCarty said during his closing arguments. “Probation is not the same as freedom. We're asking that you give her probation today. Her family misses their daughter.”
‘Blew through a red light’
Prosecutors said Branum, a former trauma nurse, “was speeding and blew through a red light” about 5 a.m. March 9, 2014, when she hit the car driven by Brandon Bennett, 20, of Hurst, who was on his way to Lewisville for drills with the Texas Army National Guard.
Bennett was northbound in a Honda on Westpark Way when Branum’s Dodge, eastbound in the 2300 block of West Pipeline Road, in Euless drove through the intersection, police said.
Bennett was pronounced dead at 7 a.m. at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford in Bedford.
Branum was traveling about 60 mph; the speed limit is 35 mph. According to evidence presented at trial, Branum’s blood-alcohol content was more than 0.095 when she was tested, higher than the legal limit of 0.08.
Branum’s first trial, in December, ended in a mistrial after a juror told the judge that he knew Bennett and his family.
‘Pattern’ of breaking laws
Althought Branum had not been convicted of a felony, prosecutors presented a list of legal missteps that they said argued against probation.
Tarrant County employee Ashley Yager testified that while Branum free on bail after the wreck, she tampered with her alcohol sensor at least three times in 2014 and 2015, a violation of her bail conditions. Eventually, Branum’s bail was revoked, Yager said.
In 2004, Branum was placed on deferred-adjudication probation after a misdemeanor conviction for possession of marijuana. Branum also received 10 misdemeanor traffic citations between June 2009 and September 2013. They included speeding, failure to change her address on her licenses and operating a motor vehicle without a license plate, according to court records.
“The defense might say that these are just tickets, but they represent a pattern,” prosecutor Richard Alpert said. “She repeatedly breaks the same laws. She doesn’t listen, she doesn’t learn. Mercy is a wonderful thing, but she doesn’t deserve mercy.”
Bennett’s mother, Brenda Holden, testified that her son grew up loving all types of games. An automaker called two days after his death to offer Bennett a job in its warehouse, Holden said.
Holden testified that she looked in on her son the night before he died, but he was sleeping soundly and had to get up early the next morning, so she decided not to disturb him.
“I heard the doorbell at 8 a.m., and I thought that was odd,” Holden said. “It was the worst nightmare a parent could ever see. I opened the door and saw two police officers and a chaplain. I didn’t understand. It was a residential area. How could this happen where my kids grew up?”
Alisha Williams, also a member of the Texas Army National Guard, testified that Bennett told her that his goals in life were to become a police officer and a father.
“Brandon was that little brother that got on your nerves, but you loved him anyway,” Williams said. “There were definitely times when we wanted to kill each other and he stopped us. He was the light at the end of our tunnel.”