NEW PORT RICHEY — His ex-girlfriend visited him in jail and asked what happened. It was mid February 2008 and she heard Jackie Braden was accused of killing his mother and stepfather, stealing $200,000 in cash and 40 pounds of marijuana from their safe and partying at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa before he was found.
"I know what true evil is — and how evil I can be," Braden said, according to the opening statement of Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis as Braden's trial began Monday.
Braden, now 40, told the woman he deserved the death penalty for what he did, Halkitis told jurors.
"It was harder than I thought it would be," he said of shooting his mother and stepfather, according to the prosecutor.
Braden is charged with two counts of first-degree murder. If convicted he faces life in prison. The state is not seeking the death penalty.
Authorities believe David and Sherrill Wright, both 54, were murdered in their Shady Hills home either late Feb. 7, 2008 or early the next morning. Halkitis said David Wright was a general contractor who also sold marijuana and his property was like a "fortress." The house sat more than a football field's length back from the gate of the fence surrounding it. He had two aggressive dogs. He kept many guns.
Braden lived with his mother and stepfather, who had been a father figure for him since he was a toddler. Halkitis said Braden shot David Wright in the back of the head while his stepfather sat in a recliner watching television. The bullet exited Wright's head and shattered a window. He was killed instantly, Halkitis said.
His mother had been lying down in her bedroom and woke up. She was standing in her nightgown, 18 inches away from her son, when Braden shot her three times, Halkitis said.
"He shot her in the face, shot her in the neck and shot her in the thigh," Halkitis said.
Halkitis said Braden then hacked his way into his mother and stepfather's safe with drills, hammers, saws and possibly a gun. He stuffed more than $200,000 in cash into an Adidas gym bag and more than 40 pounds of marijuana into a suitcase and an empty Purina dog food bag. Halkitis said Braden then took his stepfather's Xanax and credit cards and fled in David Wright's pickup. According to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, Braden spent the next few days partying at the Hard Rock Casino in Tampa. He called his friend Christopher Catalano and told him to come join him, case documents stated.
"I hit it big, bro," he told Catalano, authorities said.
Braden's party ended in a beach hotel suite overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. On Feb. 11, the friend heard Braden's parents had been murdered. He broke the news to Braden.
Braden, according to his arrest warrant, fell to his knees and wept. "I had to do it," Braden told Catalano, the report states. "They were never going to give it to me."
The defense did not present an opening statement to the jury. The trial is expected to finish Thursday or Friday.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.