DALLAS — Former Dallas Cowboy Josh Brent faces up to 20 years in prison after a Dallas County jury Wednesday found him guilty of intoxication manslaughter for a 2012 wreck that killed his best friend and teammate.
The verdict followed six days of testimony and arguments and approximately nine total hours of jury deliberations about whether Brent was actually drunk while driving in a Dec. 8, 2012, rollover wreck that killed 25-year-old Jerry Brown Jr., a Cowboys practice squad linebacker. The jury will now have to determine how much time — if any — Brent will spend behind bars for the felony conviction.
Brent — who served 30 days in an Illinois jail in 2009 after being arrested for driving drunk on an expired license and speeding — is eligible for probation. The punishment phase of Brent’s trial is set to begin Thursday.
He did not appear to physically react when state District Judge Robert Burns announced the 10-woman, two-man jury’s verdict, which was rendered Wednesday afternoon after a second day of deliberations. At least one juror appeared to have been crying when she re-entered the courtroom.
Brent, who turns 26 next week, had been free on bond pending the verdict. He was handcuffed afterward and taken to the Dallas County Jail.
District Attorney Craig Watkins came into the courtroom to hear the verdict but left quickly afterward.
Family members of Brown and Brent and attorneys for both sides, who are under a gag order, declined comment and left the courtroom in silence. A few cried immediately after the verdict was announced. Some family members and friends could testify during the sentencing phase.
The judge sent the jurors home Wednesday evening after they had been sequestered in hotel rooms Tuesday night. But they are still not allowed to talk to anyone about the case or take in media accounts until after the sentencing.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones released a brief statement Wednesday saying the team understands “the very serious nature of this situation and express our concerns for all of the families and individuals that have been affected by the tragedy of Jerry Brown’s death.”
The case has gained national media attention because of Brent’s connection to the team. He played sparingly in three seasons before retiring during the summer after the wreck.
Brent was originally arrested after the early morning single-car crash on a State Highway 114 frontage road in Irving.
He was driving at least 110 mph on a 45-mph stretch of road when his car hit a curb and spun out of control, according to court testimony. Neither Brent nor Brown wore their seat belts. An investigator testified during the trial that Brown’s body helped cushion Brent from more serious blows during the crash.
Tests showed Brent’s blood alcohol level after the wreck was 0.18, which is more than twice the legal limit for driving of 0.08. A toxicologist testified that Brent, who weighs 320 pounds, would have had to drink 17 standard alcoholic drinks to reach that level.
Brent’s attorneys — George Milner III, Kevin Brooks and Deandra Grant — acknowledged that he was speeding, but tried to cast doubt on whether the ex-player was drunk at the time.
“There is no proof in the record as to why he drove fast … He drove fast when he had nothing to drink,” Milner said in closing arguments.
The defense attorneys questioned the science of how the blood sample was taken and said Brent didn’t sound drunk on a 911 tape immediately after the wreck.
Employees at Eddie V’s, a Dallas restaurant where Brent and teammates had been drinking and dining earlier in the evening, testified that they didn’t think Brent was intoxicated.
Brent did not take the stand.
Milner said during his closing arguments Tuesday that Brent wasn’t drunk and the prosecution had “not proven he was intoxicated at the time he drove.”
But jurors had watched surveillance videos during the trial that showed Brent drinking at Club Privae that night in Northwest Dallas. Prosecutors said the video showed Brent chugging champagne; defense attorneys argued that he was drinking water, and that champagne would have reacted differently to being shaken while he was dancing.
The jury also saw a police video of Brent telling an officer he had an alcohol “buzz” and failing a series of field sobriety tests. The defense chalked Brent’s behavior up to the stress and trauma from the wreck.
First Assistant District Attorney Heath Harris told jurors during closing arguments Tuesday that the defense position “is deception.”
“This is not about sympathy,” Harris said. “This is about what the evidence shows.”
The jurors sent no notes to indicate their thought process during deliberations. They asked no questions, but they did ask to see evidence, including surveillance video taken that night at the club.
While Brown’s mother has staunchly defended Brent and didn’t want him prosecuted, she and Brown’s father have filed lawsuits against Beamers Nightclub, which operates Privae. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission announced last year that it found evidence to believe that the club over-served a patron the night Brent and Brown were there.
Brown’s blood alcohol content was just below the legal limit before he died, according to a medical examiner.