By Dylan Goforth
Phoenix Staff Writer
Saying he couldn’t let such a violent crime go unpunished, a judge sentenced a former Muskogee football star Friday to 30 years — 20 in prison and 10 on probation.
District Judge Darrell Shepherd listened as Braxton Owens’ attorney, Donn Baker, asked for probation for Owens. Owens pleaded guilty in July to strangling and robbing Muskogee businessman E.J. Mayes on May 19, 2011. Assistant District Attorney Gary Huggins asked Shepherd, at the behest of Mayes and his family, to give Owens 20 years in prison followed by 20 years of probation.
Shepherd said he had to weigh both the need to be consistent with similar crimes with the need to understand the individuality of this one.
“Crimes like this can’t go unpunished,” Shepherd said. “I can’t give you probation with no time in. The difficulty is in how much to give you.”
Owens pleaded guilty to robbery by force or fear and conspiracy charges in July.
Shepherd listened to closing arguments from both sides and recessed for about 12 minutes before returning with his decision.
Baker called three character witnesses for Owens, all of whom classified Owens as a good kid who took a wrong turn when his football career ended.
Owens was a member of the 2006 All-Phoenix High School football team after starring as a linebacker at Muskogee High School. He spent three semesters at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kan., before returning home “to get his life together,” he said.
Owens testified Friday to starting a marijuana habit while in college that he said spiraled out of control and ended with him smoking methamphetamine at a neighbor’s house while in Muskogee. His plan to rob Mayes began, Owens said, after Mayes towed Owens’ vehicle in 2011.
Owens said he went to pick up his vehicle from Mayes’ shop, paid Mayes in cash and saw him carrying “a lot of money.”
Shortly thereafter, Owens said he conspired with another man to be dropped off at Mayes’ shop, rob Mayes and be picked up nearby.
Before the attack, Owens told Mayes he needed to look at a vehicle he was interested in purchasing. Once outside the shop, Owens grabbed Mayes from behind, choking him so hard his eyes hemorrhaged and he later had a stroke.
Owens had apologized to the Mayes family when he pleaded in July, but family members said his apology was a watered down version of the truth, and quibbled with Owens’ retelling.
Friday, however, Owens admitted to the savagery of his attack on Mayes.
“The way I was living was so God-awful,” Owens said. “It was cowardly, what I did.”
Days after the attack, police arrested a man they believed was responsible for the robbery based on an identification Mayes gave to a photo lineup.
Police released that man after the investigation centered on Owens. A confidential informant secretly videotaped Owens reading a Muskogee Phoenix newspaper report after the wrong man was jailed for the attack. In the video, Owens appeared gleeful he had gotten away with the robbery.
“He is a good person,” Baker said. “But he was bad that day.”
Robbery by force or fear falls under Oklahoma’s 85 percent statute, so Owens must spend at least 17 years in prison before being eligible for parole. He will receive time served for the 17 months he spent in the Muskogee County/City Detention Facility, Huggins said.
Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or dgoforth