DALLAS (AP) — Josh Brent is no longer a Dallas Cowboy, but the stars on his old helmet figure heavily into his upcoming trial for a teammate’s death in a 2012 wreck.
Brent’s trial is set to start Monday on allegations that he was driving drunk and caused the death of Dallas practice squad player Jerry Brown. If convicted of intoxication manslaughter or manslaughter, Brent could get 20 years in prison, but he could also get probation.
Brent’s attorney has argued his client deserves probation, and Brown’s mother says she has forgiven her son’s college teammate and friend. But prosecutors have made Brent’s case a priority, and it comes to trial after weeks of debate over a case in neighboring Tarrant County that ended with a teenage motorist getting probation for a drunken wreck that killed four people last year.
“We do anticipate that this case will send a clear message about how strongly the citizens of Dallas County feel about their intoxication laws,” said Heath Harris, the Dallas County first assistant district attorney, in an interview shortly after Brent’s arrest in December 2012.
George Milner, Brent’s attorney, has said his client was struggling months later with the aftermath of the accident. Brent was put on leave from the Cowboys and retired last year. Several Cowboys players could testify during the two-week trial, including those who were drinking with Brent and Brown the night of the wreck.
“All he had was Jerry Brown and his teammates on the Cowboys,” Milner said. “Now he has none of that.”
Brent and Brown were headed home the morning of Dec. 8, 2012, after a night out. The two were roommates and close friends from their days at the University of Illinois.
Brent was a defensive tackle who had played in all 12 games of the 2012 NFL season. Brown was a linebacker who had been signed to the Cowboys’ practice squad that season.
Police said Brent was speeding when his Mercedes hit the side of a highway in the Dallas suburb of Irving and flipped over at least once. Irving Police spokesman John Argumaniz said officers responding to the crash found Brent trying to drag Brown from a fiery vehicle.
Police said tests showed Brent had a blood alcohol level that was more than twice the legal limit.
The case has gotten widespread attention, even after Brent’s retirement last July. Brent was briefly jailed after testing positive multiple times for marijuana, but remains on bond.
Among the NFL players that have been listed as potential witnesses are safeties Danny McCray and Barry Church, who have said they were among the teammates with Brent and Brown that night, and cornerback Orlando Scandrick.
“Everybody had maybe a little too much to drink,” Church told The Dallas Morning News last month. “Nobody thought maybe we should get (Brent) a ride. He seemed intoxicated, but not like, ‘Ah, I can’t make it type.’ We’ve all been there. We’ve all been behind the wheel a little intoxicated.”
Brown’s mother, Stacey Jackson, also told the newspaper that she couldn’t stay angry at Brent for what happened.
“If being mad at Josh would bring Jerry back, I would be the No. 1 person. I would be mad as hell at him,” Jackson said, adding that doing that “takes too much time and too much energy.”
But prosecutors have indicated they will push hard for a conviction and prison time.
“A person lost his life here,” Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said in an interview on local sports radio last year. “And so for us to protect the public and send a message, we feel that we have a responsibility to make sure that he loses his freedom.”
(AP Photo: Former Dallas Cowboys’ Josh Brent stands in court as potential jurors are directed into Judge Robert Burns, looking on in back, courtroom Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Dallas.)