CONROE – The jury in the Brandon Ferguson trial deliberated for only 30 minutes in the Montgomery County Courthouse on Thursday before returning a guilty verdict on all charges, which included five counts of manslaughter and one count of aggravated assault.
The charges stem from the Jan. 10, 2009 automobile crash that killed family members Donald Lee Sexton, 60, of College Station; Curtis Charles Edwards, 70, of Pinehurst; 83-year-olds Lloyd and Catherine Edwards, of Salina, Oklahoma; in addition to Ferguson’s girlfriend and only passenger, 18-year-old Kayla Ann Pratorius of Magnolia. Karla Sexton, 59, of College Station was ejected from the van and seriously injured, but she survived and testified this week.
The crash occurred at the intersection of FM 249 and Patridge Circle where Ferguson’s Chevy Cobalt t-boned a mini-van at a high rate of speed, causing it to burst into flames with three of the four occupants trapped inside.
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After returning a guilty verdict, jurors heard evidence and victim impact statements for the punishment phase of the trial, which continues today.
Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Warren Diepraam was pleased with the verdict, and said the speed with which it was returned showed jurors listened to the evidence and believe the prosecution witnesses.
However, Diepraam said the guilty verdict was only one step in the process for the families of the five people killed and for the second vehicle’s lone survivor.
“This sort of thing is just horrendous,” Diepraam said. “What they’ve been through and continue to go through is something that they’re never going to get over.”
The seasoned prosecutor had no sympathy for the defendant, who said appeared to have convenient memory loss.
“If there’s something that hurts his case, he can’t remember,” Diepraam said.
But there was more that bothered Diepraam about Ferguson than his questionable memory lapses.
“(Ferguson’s) got no concept of reality when it comes to what theses people have gone through,” he said. “All he’s concerned about is himself and his injuries.”
Diepraam repeatedly pointed out that the only time Ferguson showed emotion during the trial was when he testified about his own injuries. Ferguson did not otherwise react with any emotion, even during testimony from the mother of his girlfriend who was his passenger and was killed in the crash.
As an example of how emotionally devastating the scene was for all involved, Diepraam pointed to the testimony of Sgt. Angela Fountain with the Texas Department of Public Safety, who he called a “hardened DPS trooper that’s responded to hundreds or thousands of serious crashes.” Fountain testified the Ferguson crash was the worst she had ever seen.
“She can’t sleep at night,” Diepraam said. “This will be forever imprinted in her mind – that says a lot.”
Diepraam said the prosecution was asking for a sentence commensurate with the crime, adding that 15 to 20 years in prison was nothing compared to the sentence given to the family members of the deceased and to the only surviving victim.
Defense attorney Don Lambright admitted his client was speeding, but disputed just how fast he was traveling at the time and whether he was visible in time for the victims to avoid pulling out in front of him. He even suggested a “blind spot” in the van might have been to blame.
Lambright repeatedly told jurors Ferguson does not remember what happened and will suffer the physical consequences for the rest of his life. When asked afterward if Ferguson was now functioning on a lower level because of damage to his brain, Lambright said the injuries only affected his memory. However, he stated that Ferguson would never fully recover physically and has many surgeries and other difficulties ahead.
Diepraam did not hide his disgust at the defense strategy in his closing arguments to the jury.
“You’ve heard a lot about mercy mercy mercy me,” he said. “It’s all intended to make you feel sorry for (Ferguson).”
Diepraam told jurors to imagine a burglar entering their home and threatening their family, and they manage to defend their family and property by shooting that burglar, then he comes to court saying “poor me, poor me.”
“It’s not about him, it’s about consequences,” Diepraam said. “It’s about what happened to them, and the consequences of his actions.”
As he was wrapping up, Diepraam showed jurors the accident scene photos of the victims one last time, reminding them why they were in court.
He drove the point home, appealing to every parent’s worst fear.
“It could’ve been anybody’s daughter in that car, sitting in the passenger seat with him,” Diepraam said. “Life is precious and for him to callously disregard our safety and our lives, he did a horrible horrible thing with horrible consequences.”
The sentencing phase continues at 8:30 a.m. this morning.