DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – No matter where he went during the Josh Brent trial, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins heard the same question.
“If that white kid got probation in Tarrant County, why y’all trying to put Brent in prison in Dallas County?” he remembers people asking at the MLK Parade.
Even in his own home, he says his wife asked about the fairness of imprisoning former Dallas Cowboys player Josh Brent for a drunk driving crash that killed one person, when a Tarrant County judge had just given 16-year-old Ethan Couch probation for a drunk driving crash that killed four.
“Well, it’s gonna look bad,” he says she told him. “I’d go to my Dad’s house, same thing.”
Even at the grocery store, he heard people protesting.
“Hey are you Craig Watkins? Hey, Craig, Y’all need to give Josh Brent probation.”
Lead prosecutor, Heath Harris says, during jury selection, potential jurors were also comparing the cases.
“They brought it up,” said Harris. “I believe that, had we tried this case prior to those results in Tarrant County, Josh Brent might be in prison right now. I firmly believe that.”
Harris believes defense attorneys tried stacking the jury with as many minorities as possible, dismissing potential white jurors.
“Out of their 10 strikes, nine were Anglo. So you, you make a conclusion regarding whether race played a factor,” said Harris.
Yet, defense attorney George Milner said in a statement, “Race played absolutely NO role in any decision to strike any prospective juror in the case.”
Prosecutors objected during the selection process, but a judge sided with the defense, which offered legitimate reasons for each of their dismissals.
Out of the twelve jurors who ultimately decided the case, six were black, three were Hispanic, and only three were white. Those three were among the ten women on the jury, who were considered more sympathetic to a mother’s pleas for leniency.
The jury sentenced Brent to 10 years’ probation. The judge exercised his ability to add six months behind bars. Brent is now serving out that jail sentence.
Watkins says, Brent’s case is hardly unique and that race was just one factor of many that lead to the jury’s decision.
“This is just one case we can shine a light on” he said.
He believes, though, it’s as good an opportunity as any to have an honest conversation.
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