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Vincent Brown avoids death penalty, gets life in prison

Vincent Brown leans back and smiles after sentencing. “I’m glad this is over. Now I can get some peace,” he told a bailiff.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Vincent Brown leans back and smiles after sentencing. “I’m glad this is over. Now I can get some peace,” he told a bailiff.

TAMPA — Even though he kidnapped his girlfriend, locked her in a car trunk and killed her, Vincent George Brown doesn't deserve to die, a jury decided Saturday.

The victim's mom crossed her arms defiantly. At least he will be locked up for life, Alma Dorsey Johnson said.

Brown, 41, showed no emotion as he listened to the jury's decision. None as the judge imposed a life sentence.

But after the family of Jennifer Johnson filed out of the courtroom, he leaned back and turned to a bailiff.

"I'm glad this is over," he said. "Now I can get some peace."

The trial took 16 days, some of them filled with terrible forensic photos of the young mother killed in 2008, either by strong hands or plastic bags pulled over her face.

The jury convicted Brown on Wednesday of kidnapping and first-degree murder.

On Saturday, they were left with one decision — a recommendation on life or death, a choice by at least a majority of jurors would be given "great weight" by the judge.

Testimony started with Brown's ex-wife, Monica Williams, who spoke of beatings a decade ago.

Jurors saw pictures of swollen eyes, bruises and scratches.

Brown was convicted of aggravated battery each time, the jury learned.

Williams told jurors that she didn't want to be in court. She has two daughters with Brown, ages 16 and 20. Brown is a good father to them and has supported his family over the years, she said.

She considers him a friend.

But Brown's most ardent defenders — his children — came later.

Raven Brown is a daddy's girl, and she told the jury that.

"I love my dad," Brown, 20, testified. "And in spite of this, I always will."

Over the years, he helped with homework and took his children to movies and to go shopping and bowling.

He attended softball games. He paid for pedicures.

Another daughter called her father "wise."

"He gives me advice on a lot of things," said Vinicia Brown, 21. "I mean, that's my dad."

The jurors listened. But the only tears shed came when Johnson's family spoke. At least two jurors could be seen wiping their eyes as the victim's sister, Rachel Johnson, read a letter.

"I miss the times we laughed and played together. I miss the times we cried together," she said. "Now that Jennifer is gone, I have to do it all alone."

An aunt read her own letter. She wanted jurors to know Johnson was intelligent and hard-working.

"She loved getting up for work and dressing professionally in her pretty heels," Betty Dorsey read. "She had goals and dreams, and one of them was opening up her own beauty salon."

Jurors deliberated for about an hour before recommending that Brown not be executed, leaving Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente to impose the life sentence.

Outside the courthouse, Johnson's family expressed frustration, but the slain woman's mother was happy about one thing:

After staring a her daughter's killer day after day, it was over.

"I won't see him ever again," she said.

Times staff photographer Octavio Jones contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Vincent Brown avoids death penalty, gets life in prison 11/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 19, 2011 10:11pm]

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