By Patsy R. Brumfield
TUPELO – Wesley Brandon of Belden pleaded guilty today in the 2011 DUI-Death of John E. Bell.
Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner sentenced him to 25 years with 15 years suspended, five years post-release supervision and fines to run concurrent with a federal drug sentence.
Brandon was accused of causing the vehicular death of Bell while under the influence of alcohol on May 14, 2011.
The maximum penalty for conviction of this crime is 25 years and $10,000 fine. The minimum maximum is five years.
Assistant District Attorney John Weddle recommended to Judge Thomas Gardner that sentence plus restitution for Bell’s funeral expenses.
Indicted in 2011, Brandon has been in custody since a bond hearing in mid-2012.
Today, the 32-year-old wore red and white striped Lee County Jail garb as he sat beside his attorney, Frank Russell of Tupelo. The hearing may be one of Russell’s first since he suffered a severe fall at home a few months ago.
Prosecutors told Gardner that Bell’s family consented to the proposed sentence earlier today.
During the proceedings, victims’ coordinator Jimmie Weeks sat with Bell’s parents.
Across the aisle in the Lee County Justice Center sat six people who apparently were affiliated with Brandon.
Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to involvement in a regional conspiracy to distribute heroin. He was sentenced to time served and placed on supervised release.
Brandon apologized to Bell’s family and his, saying it was a “terrible tragedy” which will affect him the rest of his life.
Russell told the court, “This is one of the most tragic cases I’ve seen in the past 43 years” since Russell graduated from law school.
John Bell, the father of the victim, spoke to the court.
He told Gardner about learning that his son was in an accident. He said he asked the police, who said it was bad. He fought back tears as he told the story.
“To us, it was devastating, heartbreaking,” he said. “We hunted and fished, we were certified in scuba diving … we miss him terribly.”
He also said his son’s organs were donated with the hope his death could help someone else.
Bell said they also grieve for Brandon’s family and his struggles with alcohol and other substances. “We feel like it’s important he’s punished for what he’s done. We lost our son and his memory will always be with us,” he said. “We ask the court to give us a fair judgment for what needs to be done in a case like this. We won’t ever see our son again, he’s gone.”
He told Gardner they approved the state’s recommendation for sentence.
Gardner, who lost a daughter in a wreck years ago, told him, “I understand exactly what you’re saying. There’s not much else I can do for you.”
Russell said it’s the case of two friends, one in the cemetery and one headed to prison. He also asked the court to give his client credit for time served, about 15 months, since his bond was revoked.
He said it was an “unusual” wreck at extension of Jackson Street and Coley Road.
Bell’s mother wiped tears from her eyes as Russell then her husband spoke.