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 during his opening statement at Brent's trial.
Brent is charged with intoxication manslaughter in the December 2012 death of his friend and former college teammate, Jerry Brown, who had made the Cowboys' practice squad that season. If convicted of that charge or of manslaughter, Brent faces up to 20 years in prison.
Police in the Dallas suburb of Irving say blood tests showed that Brent's blood-alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit after the crash. But Brent's lawyer, George Milner, signaled that he will try to undermine the state's assertions that Brent was too drunk to drive on the night of the crash.
Milner argued 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 Brent purchased 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 paramedics trying to save Brown while an officer interviewed Brent about how much he had had to drink.
"I've had a reasonable amount," Brent is heard saying on the video.
The officer, Kevin Palms, testified that Brent had watery eyes, an odor 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.
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 neighboring Tarrant County in which a teenage driver was sentenced to probation in a drunken crash that killed four people.
Brent and Brown were close friends and former teammates at the University of Illinois. Brent was a defensive tackle who had played in all 12 games of the 2012 NFL season. He would retire in July.
Brown was a linebacker who had been signed to the Cowboys' practice squad that season.
The prosecution showed photos of Brown to the jury, which was seated last week, and described his passion for the game.
"All Jerry ever wanted to do was play football," Harris said.