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Manslaughter trial begins for ex-Cowboys DT Brent

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The Canadian Press
1/13/2014 2:15:15 PM
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DALLAS -- Former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent wasn't drunk, as police contend, when he wrecked his Mercedes in a crash that killed a teammate, Brent's lawyer told jurors Monday at the start of his trial.

Brent was "guilty of being stupid behind the wheel of a car," not driving drunk on the night of the December 2012 crash that killed his close friend and teammate, Jerry Brown, defence attorney George Milner said.

Milner's opening remarks signalled that he would try to discredit evidence of Brent's drinking central to the state's case, including a blood test that allegedly pegged Brent's blood alcohol content at more than twice the legal limit and dash cam video that jurors saw Monday showing Brent failing a field sobriety test at the scene.

If convicted of intoxication manslaughter or manslaughter, Brent could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

Milner argued in his opening statement that the tall, lumbering Brent, who was a 320-pound lineman when he played for the Cowboys, could drink more than the average person without becoming intoxicated.

"Josh Brent is as big as a house," Milner said. "He's got a heart -- better yet a mind -- of a person much younger than he really is."

Prosecutor Heath Harris said receipts would prove that on the night of the crash, Brent bought cocktails with several shots of liquor in them and three bottles of Champagne at a night club. Brent told officers right after the crash that he hadn't had any hard liquor.

"This is not a difficult case, ladies and gentlemen," Harris said. "There will be no disputing the fact that he was drinking that night."

Dash cam video played for the jury Monday showed an officer asking Brent about how much he had had to drink while paramedics were trying to save Brown, a linebacker on the Cowboys' practice squad who was also a teammate of Brent's at the University of Illinois.

"I've had a reasonable amount," Brent is heard saying on the video.

The officer, Kevin Palms, testified that Brent had watery eyes, an odour of alcohol and occasional issues with speaking. The video shows a field sobriety test in which Brent occasionally stumbles as he tries to walk in a straight line and takes more steps than the officer asked.

But Milner told jurors during his opening remarks that nobody could have passed a field sobriety test after such a fiery wreck. Brent suffered scrapes to his head in the crash, and the video shows him taking the test with a wrap around his head.

"Nobody's going to be able to do the tricks on the side of the road" after a crash of that severity, Milner said.

Milner raised several alternate reasons for Brent failing the tests: His size made it hard for him to balance, the powder from his car's air bags made his eyes watery, and the crash had a lingering impact on him.

Palms started to grow exasperated as Milner repeatedly questioned why officers made him take the tests.

"We gave him every opportunity to go to the hospital," Palms said. "If he says no, (paramedics) can't force him to go. Am I supposed to just let him walk home?"

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 on the heels of another well-publicized case in neighbouring Tarrant County in which a teenage driver was sentenced to probation in a drunken crash that killed four people.

Brent, a defensive tackle, had played in all 12 games of the 2012 NFL season prior to the crash. He retired in July.

Brown was signed to the Cowboys' practice squad that season.

Josh Brent (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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