Braden gets 23 years in Penny Coyle case
By Karen Hall
A young man who was tried for the murder of Penny Blackwell Coyle, but found guilty of a lesser included charge, was sentenced this week.
Jerron Braden, 19, was charged with first-degree murder. After a trial in March that lasted more than a week, and eight hours of deliberation, a jury found him guilty of facilitation of first-degree murder. This crime carries a mandatory sentence of 15 to 25 years for a person who has no prior felony convictions.
The sentencing hearing Wednesday helped Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler determine where in that range he would set Braden's sentence.
Crystal Gray of the Board of Probation and Parole testified the statement Braden wrote for her pre-sentence report said he helped plan the murder.
"Did he ever admit he was there, or fired a shot?" asked Assistant District Attorney Mike Randles.
"No sir," Gray replied.
Questioned by Braden's appointed attorney David McKenzie, Gray revealed details of Braden's life before Coyle's murder.
He was born while his mother, Stephanie Hudson, was incarcerated, and was placed in foster care. Steve Braden, who is not his biological father, had custody of Jerron until he was three years old, and then he went to his grandparents, Gail and Roy O'Neal.
There is nothing on Jerron Braden's record from age three until 11, Gray testified. In 2005 he was charged with aggravated assault, and in 2007 with domestic assault, and it was then he was turned over to the Department of Children's Services.
"As soon as he goes in DCS custody, everything goes down hill, is that correct?" asked McKenzie.
"Yes sir," answered Gray, noting several crimes which would have been felonies if committed by an adult.
Braden had many different placements, including a psychiatric hospital, group homes, and foster homes. He ran away from several of these, and had been on "escape status" for over a month the day of Coyle's murder, Nov. 21, 2011.
Coyle's son Greg Bradford was called to testify about the effect the murder has had on his family.
"She was my mother, my friend, a grandmother to my kids," Bradford read from a prepared statement. "I miss her so much. I'll never tell her I love her to her face again.
"My mom's life was taken," he continued. "Jerron and the others responsible never deserve to walk the streets again."
"Fifteen to 25 years does not feel like enough, does it?" asked Randles.
"Right," agreed Bradford. "I feel like justice has not been served for my mom."
Arguing for a longer sentence, Randles called Braden's juvenile record "atrocious."
"This is somebody who had knowlege he did wrong, and has shown no remorse," Randles said. "He's here because he confessed."
With no prior felony convictions as an adult, Braden is a Range I offender, who must serve 30 percent of his sentence before being eligible for a parole board hearing.
"Does the state agree this is a 30 percent sentence?" asked Crigler.
"Yes sir, unfortunately," answered Randles.
Randles and McKenzie vigorously argued the enhancing and mitigating factors which had bearing on the length of the sentence. Enhancing factors would tend to make it longer, while mitigating factors would do the opposite.
"There's no evidentce in the record Mr. Braden had a gun, or used a gun; there was no weapon in Jerron Braden's hand," said McKenzie. "His conduct did not bring about the untimely death of Penny Coyle. He is innocent of first-degree murder, and of second-degree murder, and of criminal responsibility for the actions of another."
"Penny Coyle is gone forever," argued Randles. "Do not cheapen what has been done. The facts show the defendant was a willing participant."
"I do believe his statement," said Crigler, as he prepared to set the sentence. "Had the jury not believed it, they would have acquitted him of all charges. In my opinion, he fired the first shot, and firing the first shot was not a minor role." Crigler said, setting the sentence at 23 years.
Braden has 481 days of jail credit.
McKenzie will file a new-trial motion next week, but Braden's case ended at the trial court level Wednesday, he said.
"Everything after this is appellate court work," McKenzie explained.