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Brown pleads to first degree

South Boston News
“Jack” Brown at his Monday plea hearing in Halifax, accompanied by Public Defender Sandra Saseen-Smith. / December 06, 2018
An 81-year-old Halifax man accused of premeditated killing in the January death of his wife entered an Alford plea of guilty to first degree murder in Halifax County Circuit Court on Monday.

Ushered into the courtroom in an orange jail jumpsuit and shackled at the ankles, John Frederick “Jack” Brown offered one-word replies of “yes” as Circuit Judge Kimberly S. White posed a series of questions to Brown about his understanding of the plea he was about to enter.

Brown said nothing else as White rendered a verdict of guilty to a single count of the first degree murder of Jeanette Brown, Brown’s 74-year-old spouse, who was found dead of gunshot wounds at the couple’s 1171 Hendricks Road home on Jan. 22. White accepted a motion by the Commonwealth to dismiss a separate firearms charge against the defendant.

The next step for Brown is a sentencing hearing, which will be scheduled at docket call in early January. First degree murder in Virginia carries a punishment of 20 years to life in prison. To prove the charge, the prosecution would have been required to show premeditation to commit murder on Brown’s part.

Brown was slated to go on trial before a jury this month, but instead the defendant decided to move forward with a plea on Monday afternoon during a pre-trial proceeding. An Alford plea is not a direct admission of guilt, but rather an acknowledgement that the Commonwealth has sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction.

Deputies returned Brown to the Blue Ridge Regional Jail in Halifax to await sentencing at the close of Monday’s hearing.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Quackenbush Martin presented a summary of the evidence that the prosecution had been prepared to present at trial.

The summary included a recounting of Brown’s confession to the Sheriff’s Office that he had shot his wife twice in the head, “describing that he had contemplated his acts for hours if not days,” said Martin. After the first shot, Brown aimed a second bullet at his wife’s head to make sure he wouldn’t leave her “like scrambled eggs,” said Martin, drawing from the defendant’s police interview.

Brown also told a Sheriff’s Office investigator that he was motivated by a desire to end his wife’s misery, describing Jeanette Brown as suffering from bipolar disorder and manic depression. Brown expressed to HCSO Investigator Sam Edmunds that he was “guilty” and “heartbroken” at his wife’s death.

When deputies arrived at the couple’s Hendricks Road home, they found Brown sitting on the porch and holding the murder weapon to his head, according to Martin. The gun had jammed and officers were able to take Brown safely into custody.

Inside the home, officers found a suicide note that Brown had written for himself and his wife in which he offered instructions after his death for the couple to be cremated together. However, other facts presented by the Commonwealth’s Attorney depicted a soured marriage and a decision by Mrs. Brown to move forward with divorce.

“Mrs. Brown made comments to family members that she couldn’t stand being with Mr. Brown,” said Martin, who added that Jeanette Brown had been making financial arrangements to ensure that she could live apart from her husband. Those arrangements included taking out a reverse mortgage on the house, which Mrs. Brown considered a non-marital gift that she did not share with anyone else, Martin said.

Mrs. Brown’s efforts angered her husband, who expressed frustration that “she was spending money that she didn’t have,” Martin continued.

Martin also stated that Brown had told another individual that he and his wife had been arguing prior to the shooting, and Brown told that individual not to share the information with anyone else.

Martin broached the topic of Mrs. Brown’s mental health, noting that a few days before the shooting, she had gone to the local hospital emergency room to seek treatment for her mental and physical state. However, “Mrs. Brown was not suicidal,” Martin said.

Brown’s lawyers, Gregory Ullom and Sandra Saseen-Smith of the Halifax County Public Defenders’ Office, clarified that Mrs. Brown had gone to the ER to seek treatment and was frustrated by what she perceived as the inability by providers to offer relief. It was then that Mrs. Brown suggested that she might kill herself, said Ullom.

However, Martin said, recounting the ER visit, “the patient stated that if I go home, I’m going to kill myself.” That statement prompted the hospital to order a mental health evaluation, at which time Mrs. Brown further stated, “I’m not suicidal, I am just angry,” Martin explained.

Brown offered his guilty plea in front of a small gathering of Jeanette Brown’s family members — her son, three sisters, two uncles, a grandson and a grand niece. Jack Brown was Mrs. Brown’s third husband, according to her son, Kevin M. Holt of Campbell County.

Holt, pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Lynch Station and one of two children from Mrs. Brown’s first marriage, said after the hearing, “I’m glad that the truth finally came out.

“He was a murderer and he murdered my mother,” Holt said of Jack Brown.

When it was initially reported that his mother might have died in a “mercy killing,” Holt said he was upset by the suggestion: “This was not a mercy killing and I’m glad that the truth about that is coming out.” From conversations with his mother, Holt said he came to view Jack Brown as “very controlling, and I think that had a lot to do with her death.

“I forgave Jack on the day of her murder,” said Holt of his stepfather. “I’m praying every day that Jack lives a long life, so that he can recant what he did.”

Holt said he last spoke with his mother in December 2017, about a month before her death. He had long been estranged from his mother, who left home early in his childhood, but they had reconciled in recent years. “She said she was sorry that she had left me and that she loved me,” recalled Holt. “And I told her that I loved her and I forgave her. And that’s when Jack took the phone and hung up.”

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