Two families left the 59th state District Court brokenhearted Thursday. One continued to grieve a son who has been dead for more than a year and a half, and the other for a son who will likely spend at least a decade in prison for that death.
Brandon Jeffery pleaded guilty back in November to manslaughter in the death of Devin Wayne Owens on May 5, 2017 outside of Denison’s Tupelo Honey.
Assistant Grayson County District Attorney Britton Brooks asked Judge Larry Phillips to sentence Jeffery to the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. He said Jeffery’s explanation that he was trying to put the bullets back in the handgun when Owens looked back at him and grabbed at the gun and it went off didn’t make sense. Brooks said nothing could detract from the fact that Jeffery took a loaded handgun and pointed it at Owens and pulled the trigger and that Owens died as a result of that.
Brooks said in the months since Jeffery has been allowed to live his life as though nothing had happened. He had been able to go to the grocery store and the gym and to see his child. The prosecutor then asked the judge to end that and send Jeffery to prison.
On the other side of the courtroom, defense attorneys Joe N. Smith and Tim Brown asked that Phillips show Jeffery mercy and let him serve his punishment as probation. They pointed out that Jeffery’s criminal history was misdemeanor stuff that happened, mostly, when he had been drinking.
Jeffery took the stand and said he freaked out when he realized that he had shot his friend in the face and ran. He ran home and was about, he said, to return to the scene when he realized that the sirens he heard meant help was already on the way. He said he reached out to the woman with whom Owens had a child, to try to figure out a way to talk to Owens’ family about what had happened. He said he couldn’t eat or sleep for months after the shooting and even tried to hurt himself and that he still struggles with finding a reason to live.
He said he and Owens had been drinking at his home before they left for Cellarman’s in Sherman. There, he said, they had several drinks. He said he had three Long Island Iced Teas even though he and Owens had consumed a number of shots of whiskey and a Xanax before they left the house. They then decided, along with some friends, to take the party to Tupelo Honey and drove over there listening to music. He said he was in the backseat passenger’s side of the car and Owens was driving with a girl they had met at the bar riding in the front passenger’s seat. That girl, testified that there was no fight going on between the two men on the way over to Denison. She said they were all listening to music and having a good time. She said she never saw the guns that each man had in the car. Owens, Jeffery said, took a hit of cocaine as they pulled in at the bar in Denison.
Jeffery said he had his handgun in the backseat with him and he was drunkenly trying to put the magazine back in the gun to store it when Owens turned around and grabbed at the gun. He said as he continued to fumble with the gun, his finger found the trigger and the gun fired. That shot hit Owens right between the eyes. He would later die, a medical examiner testified, from that gunshot to the brain.
Brooks grilled Jeffery over the exact number of drinks he had consumed that night and the number Jeffery admitted to went up and down depending on who was asking the question. It was three for his attorneys and five or more for Brooks. Brooks put Jeffery in the well of the courtroom and sat up chairs to represent the seats in the car and demanded that Jeffery demonstrate how he managed to shoot Owens right between the eyes from the backseat.
More than once, Brooks demanded that Jeffery tell the courtroom what Owens’ last words were before the shooting. Jeffery said Owens said, “Let’s go in the bar,” or something like that.
Once he had been sentenced to 18 years in prison, Jeffery sat stone still as Owens’ grandmother, grandfather and mother read victim impact statements that, in some cases, were several pages long.
Stefanie Owens said she has been waiting since hearing of her son’s shooting for Jeffery to come to her and tell her what happened. She said she waited at the hospital while all of Devin’s other friends came to check on him and she was still waiting when the doctors told her there was no hope and it was time to withdraw the life support that kept her son alive. She was still waiting, she said, for months after. She said hearing him tell that story in court only when he was facing a prison sentence was little comfort. She told Jeffery’s family not to grieve because he was going to prison. She said they could still visit him there and they could exchange letters and phone calls. She and her grandchildren have to go the cemetery to visit her son, she said.
After the sentencing, Brooks said, “This was one of the most tragic cases I’ve seen in my career. A mother should never asked to bury her child and I pray that Stefanie and her family find solace in knowing this legal battle is over. Brandon Jeffery will spend the next 18 years with the knowledge that he shot and killed Devin Owes.”