NEW PORT RICHEY — Angel Peck had just found out the father of her unborn baby was accused of killing his mother and stepfather. Peck had been with Jackie Braden for five years. She knew his mother, Sherrill Wright, a quiet woman, and his stepfather, David Wright, who had been in Braden's life since he was a toddler. The Wrights were shot to death and their bodies were discovered in their Shady Hills home Feb. 11, 2008. Shortly after Braden was arrested, Peck visited him in jail. She saw his face on a video screen and spoke with him through a phone.
"He told me he knew what true evil was," Peck testified Wednesday, during Braden's trial on two charges of first-degree murder. "He told me that he had gone as far down the path as he could go."
She said Braden also figured he would face the death penalty "and I probably deserve it," Braden, now 40, told her. " 'An eye for an eye.' "
She asked him why he was found with so many incriminating items — the revolvers that could have been used in the murders, blood stained clothes, nearly $200,000 in cash and 43 pounds of marijuana stolen out of the couple's safe. Authorities say David Wright was a general contractor who also ran a profitable marijuana selling business.
"(Braden) said it had all been harder than he thought it would be," Peck recounted.
She asked him why he didn't run. He told her he planned to go to New Orleans after Mardi Gras was over, put the money in a safe deposit box in his best friend's name and kill himself.
That best friend also testified Wednesday.
Christopher Catalano told the courtroom that Braden called him at 6 a.m. Feb. 8, 2008, within hours of when prosecutors think the couple was killed.
"He told me he was at the Hard Rock Casino and he hit it big," Catalano testified. "He wanted me to come out there right then."
Catalano worked on a horse farm in Odessa. He told Braden he would be there as soon as he finished his chores. He made it to the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa by noon. Braden took him up to his room, opened a black bag and threw a roll of $50 bills at him. It hit Catalano in the chest. Braden said he had $250,000 in the bag and dumped the cash onto the bed. Then he reached under the mattress and pulled out a gun and showed it to Catalano.
Catalano asked his friend where he got all the money because it didn't look like he won it at the casino.
"He said, 'Don't ask any questions you don't want to know,' " Catalano said Braden told him.
The two spent the weekend partying at the casino and a few beach hotels on the gulf.
"So you've got ecstasy, cocaine, Xanax, marijuana, booze," Defense Attorney John White asked Catalano. "Have I overlooked anything?"
"No," Catalano said.
The party began that Friday, Feb. 8. On that Monday, Feb. 11, Catalano got a phone call from a friend who told him Braden's parents had been murdered. He broke the news to Braden. Later, Catalano was in the bathroom off the master bedroom in their luxury, two-story beach suite. He leaned on the counter, his head in his hands. He told the jury he looked up and Braden was behind him. Braden pulled out a gun, grabbed Catalano by the back of his head and said, "Don't you ever f---ing judge me. Don't judge me."
A few moments later, Braden told Catalano he had to do it, Catalano said.
"He starts crying and saying they were never going to give it to him and he had to take it," Catalano said.
Jurors also heard Wednesday from the medical examiner, who testified that Sherrill and David Wright did not immediately die from their gunshot wounds. Sherrill Wright might have been awake, in pain, for minutes before going unconscious, Dr. Jon R. Thogmartin said. David Wright could have been unconscious for hours before dying.
The trial began Monday. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty. Braden faces life in prison if convicted.
The defense has not yet presented its case.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.