DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – As former Dallas Cowboys player Josh Brent was convicted of intoxication manslaughter and confronted with the possibility of spending up to 20 years in prison, the mother of the man he killed sat two rows behind him.
Stacey Jackson has said she’s forgiven Brent. With the sentencing phase underway Thursday, Jackson could be one of several witnesses Brent’s attorneys call to argue for leniency. They have previously asked for probation.
Prosecutors called four witnesses to begin the sentencing hearing, including an Illinois state trooper, who described a night in February 2009 when she pulled Brent over for speeding and driving drunk while his driver’s license was suspended.
The prosecution also called up a woman who works for the Dallas County jail. She testified that two tests showed Brent had marijuana in his system while on bond for this current case. Brent ultimately spent a week and a half in jail while awaiting trial.
Brent and Jerry Brown were close friends, having played football together at the University of Illinois. Brown had joined the Cowboys as a practice squad player about two months before Brent drunkenly drove home from a night of partying in December 2012 and crashed on a suburban Dallas highway.
Jurors took about nine hours over two days to convict Brent, who was led from the courtroom Wednesday in handcuffs as family members in the front row sobbed.
Jackson sat behind them and showed no visible reaction. She walked out of the courtroom with Brown’s family, ignoring a reporter’s questions.
Prosecutors say the burly, 320-pound defensive tackle’s blood-alcohol level after the wreck was 0.18 percent, more than twice the legal limit. Authorities say it would have taken as many as 17 drinks for Brown to get that drunk.
Brent’s attorneys argued at trial that the blood tests were faulty and that Brent could not have drank nearly that much. Attorney George Milner said his client was “guilty of being stupid behind the wheel of a car,” not drinking beforehand.
Authorities say Brent was driving his Mercedes as fast as 110 mph.
Milner has said that no one besides Jackson may have suffered from the aftermath as much as Brent, who lost his close friend and his career.
Brent played in all 12 games of the 2012 NFL season before the crash, but retired in July.
His ties to the Cowboys were prominent at trial. Two 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.
Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee attended part of the trial to show support for Brent, and team owner Jerry Jones said this week that he was closely watching for a verdict.
“Certainly it’s tragic. We’ve all, to some degree, have been a part of this,” Jones said Tuesday, according to the Cowboys’ website. “We support Josh. This has been just a terrible experience for the families who lost a loved one and for Josh who loved Jerry as well.”
Jurors saw video of Brent appearing to hold bottles of Champagne in each hand and credit-card receipts that showed Brent had purchased three bottles. They also saw police dash cam footage of Brent losing his balance during field sobriety tests and occasionally stumbling over his words while talking to officers.
It was, in the words of prosecutors Jason Hermus and Heath Harris, a textbook case of intoxication manslaughter. The prosecutors told jurors during closing arguments they should 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!”
While Brent is eligible for probation, prosecutors have indicated they will push for jail time. His conviction comes just after weeks of fierce debate about a North Texas teen, Ethan Couch, who received probation for intoxication manslaughter after a wreck that left four people dead. Couch’s case, and the so-called “affluenza” defense his attorneys employed, became the subject of fierce, widespread scrutiny.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins attended parts of Brent’s trial and whispered in prosecutors’ ears during the questioning of one witness. Watkins told a sports radio station last year that prosecutors had the responsibility to make sure Brent “loses his freedom.”
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