Jury quickly convicts Brady for prison murders

By on October 21, 2019

Brady remained impassive throughout much of the trial. (CriShaun Eugene Hardy)

At about 1 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 21, about three dozen family members and friends of four murdered prison employees sat in a chilly courtroom in the Dare County Courthouse in Manteo as the jury read back the verdict of “guilty” on all 14 counts.

The 12-person jury deliberated for only about a half hour before returning to the courtroom and announcing its decision in the murder trial of Mikel E. Brady, Jr.

Brady was accused, along with three other Pasquotank Correctional Institution inmates whose trials have not yet been held, of murdering four prison employees during a failed escape attempt from the facility on Oct. 12, 2017. The victims — Veronica Darden, Justin Smith, Wendy Shannon, and Geoffrey Howe — were tragic casualties of the deadliest prison escape attempt in North Carolina history.

Brady remained impassive throughout the verdict announcement, as he has throughout most of the trial proceedings, which began two weeks ago. The family members and friends seated behind the prosecution, most wearing coats to keep warm, huddled close together as the jury delivered its decision. Several were clearly moved and wept quietly while being held by others.

In his closing statement, Jack Warmack, one of Brady’s defense attorneys, asked the jury “not to rush to judgement,” as he said the district attorney was asking them to do. “I’m not going to stand up here and deny that my client didn’t participate in a lot of the stuff you saw up there [on the witness stand],” Warmack conceded. But he added that his client “wasn’t the only one involved in this.”

“The state wants you to think Brady is this monster who did everything,” Warmack told the jury. “He was involved, but he was not solely involved.”

In his closing statement, District Attorney Andrew Womble went through each element of the failed escape attempt, including the “go-bags” the men packed, the tools they collected to carry out their mission, and the false code they called in on the prison radio to divert officers to a far corner of the facility.

Womble re-enacted the defendants’ encounter with Veronica Darden, saying that they told her, “We’ve worked side by side. We think of you like a mother. You trust us.” Darden was murdered in the prison’s freight elevator.

Womble described the fate of Justin Smith, who received over 60 stab wounds and 30 blunt force trauma hits to his head and still managed to fight back. Brady attacked Wendy Shannon, Womble said, because “he knew he could subdue a woman easier than he could a man.” As for Geoffrey Howe, the maintenance man, “He was just trying to pick up his daughter at the bus stop,” the District Attorney stated.

“They don’t tell you in law school what justice means,” Womble concluded. “Justice is a nebulous concept. What we’re searching for today — you’re gonna tell us what that means. Brady is entitled to his day in court, to a fair trial. The victims’ families are entitled to justice. And the State of North Carolina is entitled to a guilty verdict.”

Following the jury’s verdict, the sentencing phase of the trial began.

The court heard testimony from Michael Potts, a former North Carolina state trooper, who, back in February 2013, pulled over the driver of a black Nissan on the east side of Durham because he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.

Potts got out of his vehicle and approached the driver, a young, baby-faced man with blonde hair. Momentarily distracted, he turned back to the man and found a .380 in his face. Mikel Brady shot Potts five times before speeding off.

Brady was later arrested, charged, and found guilty of attempted murder. He had served three years in Pasquotank before the 2017 escape attempt.

Potts stated in court that he never fully recovered either medically or psychologically from the incident, and that he was medically retired from his job. The incident between Potts and Brady was caught on the trooper’s dashboard camera. The graphic shooting, which the jury had the chance to view in court, seemed to take place in a matter of seconds.

The jury also heard from four family members of the victims. Veronica Darden’s daughter Jasmine Herring, a twenty-three-year old college student studying criminal justice, described her mother as her “best friend.” “When I woke up, she was the first person I thought of, the first person I talked to,” she said.

Geoffrey Howe’s mother, Deborah Howe, recalled that her son “really loved” working at the prison because he received benefits and got to spend more time with his family. She remembered that when she voiced concerns to him about potential dangers in his workplace, he reassured her that, as a maintenance man, he never came into contact with any inmates. “I never thought to ask if they came into contact with him,” she said, fighting back tears.

“Justin was always there” for her, Smith’s mother, Melanie Mathewson, recalled, especially when she lost her husband, mother, and a sibling. “Still to this day, I’m waiting for him to come back to the house…part of my heart is gone.”

Wendy Shannon had worked at Pasquotank for four years, but had previously served 21 years in the army, deploying four times and seeing active combat. She was always hosting friends and family at her house and cooking for everyone, her sister, Tam Shannon-Williams, recollected. “She would give you the shirt off her back.”

Just before 5 p.m. the state rested its case. The defense will present its argument starting Tuesday morning as it tries to convince the jury to spare Brady’s life. The defense confirmed that one of its witnesses will be Brady himself.

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  • hightider

    Brady deserves – and will get – the death penalty. Anyone who will shoot a trooper 5 times during a traffic stop is morally depraved. He should have been serving life at Central Prison for that crime alone. Dozens of lives were disrupted and dozens of hearts broken over his half-baked scheme to escape. In fact, he and his cohorts should receive the death penalty for sheer stupidity. All four must be mentally deficient to think they could have escaped successfully. I will reserve my sympathy for his victims and their loved ones. I am sure he will have a hard-luck story for the jury, hoping for mercy. Here’s a news flash – most of us have hard-luck stories as well.

    Tuesday, Oct 22 @ 5:41 am
  • Travis

    After they give him the lethal injection they ought to drive a stake through his heart and shoot him with a silver bullet for good measure. Cover all the bases for this monster.

    Tuesday, Oct 22 @ 1:42 pm
  • Grandyguy

    hightider – I don’t know ya, but I like ya.
    well said

    Tuesday, Oct 22 @ 6:13 pm
  • Scott

    According to court records, Brady was released from a Vermont state prison in June after serving 33 months on numerous charges, including those stemming from a violent home invasion as well as four burglaries. Then has the audacity to shoot an NC State Trooper, and now this? This vermin should not exist.

    Friday, Oct 25 @ 4:09 pm