DALLAS — Former Dallas Cowboys player Josh Brent avoided prison Friday and instead was sentenced to 180 days in jail and 10 years of probation for a drunken car crash that killed his friend and teammate, Jerry Brown.
Brent was convicted Wednesday of intoxication manslaughter for the December 2012 crash on a suburban Dallas highway that killed Brown, who was a passenger in Brent’s car. Brent could have been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. He was also fined $10,000.
Brent, 25, closed his eyes when the judge read the jury’s verdict. He was kept in custody after the hearing.
One of his attorneys, Kevin Brooks, described the former defensive tackle as “somber.”
“I’m really kind of overwhelmed with the results,” Brooks said. “It’s kind of what we’ve been fighting for from Day 1. I’m happy for Josh. Josh is still sad and grieving and that’s something he’s going to carry with him the rest of his life.”
Brent’s family members and supporters cried and hugged as the courtroom emptied after the hearing. His mother, LaTasha Brent, spoke briefly as she left the courthouse, saying she was there to support her son.
Brown’s mother, Stacey Jackson, wasn’t in the courtroom when the verdict was read. She publicly forgave Brent, and said during Thursday’s sentencing proceedings: “He’s still responsible, but you can’t go on in life holding a grudge. We all make mistakes.”
Jackson was the last witness the jury heard, and lead prosecutor Heath Harris said her testimony probably helped Brent get probation.
“The victim’s family will always have a bearing on the punishment phase,” Harris said. “Should it make a difference? What if she had been wanting the maximum? Would they have given the maximum? That’s why we let the jury decide.”
Prosecutors were pushing for prison time for Brent, whose trial came weeks after a teenage boy in neighboring Tarrant County received no prison time for an intoxication manslaughter conviction in a drunken crash that killed four people. In that case, a defense expert argued that the teen deserved leniency because his parents had coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility — a condition the expert termed “affluenza.”
The group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, whose headquarters isn’t far from the spot where Brent crashed, said in a statement that it was “shocked and appalled” by the athlete’s sentence.
“This punishment sends the message that it’s OK to drink and drive — but it’s absolutely not,” MADD said.
Brent and Brown, a linebacker on the practice squad, also played together at the University of Illinois and were close friends. They were headed home from a night of partying with Dallas teammates when Brent lost control of his Mercedes and crashed. Officers who arrived on scene saw Brent trying to pull Brown’s body from the wreckage.
Blood tests pegged Brent’s blood alcohol content at 0.18 percent, which is more than twice the state’s legal limit to drive of 0.08 percent. Prosecutors told jurors that the burly, 320-pound lineman had as many as 17 drinks on the night of the crash.
“We never quarrel with a jury’s decision,” said Harris, who passionately urged the jury to send Brent to prison. “All we can hope and pray is that I believe the jury saw something salvageable in him … and he does get some help.”
Judge Robert Burns scolded Brent after reading the verdict, saying his actions “bring shame to the city of Dallas.” The judge also mentioned Brent’s 2009 drunken-driving conviction in Illinois, which the prosecution revisited in making its case for prison time.
“The judge obviously has a right to express his opinion,” said George Milner, one of Brent’s attorneys. “I guess the difference is there’s no one in that courtroom that knows Josh the way Kevin and I do. And so I see a different person.”