Sep 24, 2022 - News

Jury sides with Coppell man's family in 2014 fatal shooting

John Crews, Jonathan's father, embraces his wife and children after the verdict. Pool photo: Shafkat Anowar/Dallas Morning News

A Dallas County civil jury has found that a woman who claimed her boyfriend fatally shot himself in 2014 was responsible for his death and owes his family millions of dollars for their loss.

Driving the news: Jurors heard testimony for three days and deliberated less than three hours before siding with Jonathan Crews' family over allegations of assault, wrongful death, aggravated assault, negligence and malice or gross negligence against Brenda Kelly.

  • The jury awarded the Crews family $206 million in damages from Kelly.

Why it matters: The civil verdict is largely symbolic and it's unlikely the Crews will get much money from Kelly.

  • They say the verdict validates their long standing doubt in the story that their son killed himself and backs their suspicion that Kelly may be responsible for his death.
  • "This was never about money," the Crews family's private investigator, Sheila Wysocki, tells Axios. "This has always been about telling the story of what happened to Jonathan."

Catch up quick: Jonathan Crews died on Feb. 2, 2014 of a single gunshot wound to his chest. Kelly reported in a 911 call that he had shot himself.

  • "We were just talking, and he just said that he loved me. And I didn't believe him. He said he was gonna prove that he loves me. I didn't know he had a gun," she said during the 10-minute call.

The allegations: In their civil lawsuit, the Crews family alleged that Kelly was jealous of Jonathan Crews' friendships with other women and shot him after he tried to break up with her.

  • Kelly told different stories about the shooting, including where the bullet wound was and what part of Crews' apartment she was in when he was shot, according to testimony.
  • Police found Crews' phone damaged and stuffed between his mattress and bed frame. The greasy magazine of his gun was found stashed in his tie collection, which his family said was odd.
While on the witness stand, Brenda Kelly holds up a copy of text messages entered into evidence by the Crews family. Pool photo: Shafkat Anowar/Dallas Morning News

Yes, but: Kelly hasn't been charged with any criminal wrongdoing related to the death and has repeatedly maintained her innocence through her attorney, Andrew Jee.

Of note: A retired Houston police homicide detective testified that he is confident Jonathan Crews didn't shoot himself based on several factors, including his right-handedness, a recent shoulder injury, the orientation of the "muzzle stamp" on his body and the direction the bullet traveled.

  • "It defies common sense that he would do that as his last act," Darrell Robertson testified.
  • Robertson said during a demonstration with a dummy gun that he believes Kelly, the only other person in Crews' apartment that night, shot him as he lay in bed.

The other side: Kelly declined to answer any questions during the trial, asserting her Fifth Amendment rights while on the witness stand. Her husband and in-laws accompanied her during the trial, and her husband embraced her for long periods of time when jurors weren't in the courtroom.

  • Jee, Kelly's attorney, told jurors there isn't enough evidence to conclude that she killed Crews.
  • He contended that Kelly called for help, attempted to offer aid and cooperated with police after the shooting.
  • "If she was just jealous and just wanted to kill him, why didn't she just run away and not call 911?" Jee said.

Between the lines: Coppell police and the Dallas County district attorney's office were noticeably absent from the civil proceedings, which at times called into question why criminal charges haven't been filed yet.

  • The medical examiner's office has listed the manner of death as undetermined.
  • The Crews family said they've inquired several times with police and the district attorney's office but the investigation appears to be at a standstill, even though initial police documents refer to it as a homicide.
  • Coppell police didn't return Axios' request for comment late Friday.

The intrigue: Jonathan's father, John Crews, and his family's attorney, Thomas Shaw, met 16 years ago when they represented two different parties in a business dispute in the same courtroom this case took place in.

  • The two men said on Friday that it was difficult being back in that courtroom to "fight for the truth" about what happened to one of their loved ones.
The Crews family participates in a prayer circle with its legal team and supporters after the verdict. Pool photo: Shafkat Anowar/Dallas Morning News

After the verdict was announced, the Crews family hugged each other in relief. Kelly embraced her legal team and her husband, and left without making any public comments.

  • "It's important for people to realize that the standard of proof and the amount of evidence needed in a civil court is very low, but we respect the decision of the jury," said Jee, her attorney.
  • Shaw hugged John Crews and tearfully whispered into his ear that he hopes the verdict will help his family "get over the hump," building momentum around a criminal case.
  • But for Pam Crews, the jury's decision offered vindication for her son, eight years after his death. "It's all I wanted … The jury saw what happened and they saw his value. There are no more words after a verdict like that," she said.

What's next: The verdict can be appealed, but that doesn't usually happen in civil cases. It's unclear if any criminal charges will follow.


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