Evidence ban brings guilty plea

Engre Brown pleaded guilty May 20 to vehicular homicide for the death of Benjamin Merscher because much of the evidence that might have supported a first-degree murder charge was excluded by Clallam County Superior Court Judge Ken Williams.

Deb Kelly, Clallam County prosecutor, said she was not allowed to bring up most of Brown's drunken-driving record or previous court orders prohibiting her from driving.

Brown will serve an exceptional sentence of 12 years in prison for vehicular homicide for the death of 25-year-old Benjamin M. Merscher of Sequim.

The standard sentencing range for vehicular homicide is 79 to 89 months, with a possible 48 months' enhancement. The maximum is life imprisonment.

The mandatory minimum sentence for first-degree murder with extreme indifference is 20 years with a maximum

of life imprisonment.

As part of the agreement, the 28-year-old Brown admitted complete responsibility for her actions in the early morning of Oct. 7, 2008, when Merscher died in a head-on collision at U.S. Highway 101 and Kitchen-Dick Road.

Brown orig-inally was charged Dec. 9, 2008, with vehicular homicide, but Kelly increased the charge April 10 to first-degree murder by extreme indifference or, in the alternative, vehicular homicide.

Kelly said evidence she intended to present either was excluded or restricted.

It included a court order from Brown's deferred prosecution for driving under the influence, her prior conviction for driving while her license was suspended and an administrative order revoking her license, she said.

Instead all Kelly could have presented at trial was an agreement that, at the time of the fatal wreck, Brown was under an order not to drink and drive, Kelly said.

Brown also pleaded guilty to one count of driving without a license and two counts of criminal contempt of court, for which she will serve one year each concurrent with the vehicular homicide sentence.

She also will serve 18 to 36 months probation after her release, during which she must abstain from alcohol and undergo a substance abuse evaluation.

When asked if she wanted to say anything, Brown said, "I just want to apologize to everyone."

Defense attorney Thomas Weaver told the court he thought it was a fair sentence.

He said truly believed Brown is "genuinely remorseful" and it just as easily could have been her that was killed.

The possibility of a plea deal began taking shape the afternoon of Tuesday, May 19, during the first day of jury selection.

That's when defense attorney Weaver said Brown was willing to take responsibility for vehicular homicide.

A side conference among Williams, Kelly and Brown's attorneys followed, with Kelly then asking potential jurors, "Am I wasting my time, given that the defendant is willing to plead to vehicular homicide?"

A second side conference ensued before potential jurors were dismissed for the day. Then Kelly and Brown's attorneys huddled in the courtroom for a few minutes afterward.

When court opened Wednesday, May 20, while potential jurors were held outside the courtroom, Brown accepted the deal.

She quietly answered "yes" three times when Williams asked if she understood what she was doing.

Reach Brian Gawley at

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