By Derek Simmonsen (Contact), Tyler Treadway (Contact)
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Everyone is asking: How could it happen?
How could 16-year-old Jacob A. Brighton take his father's 9mm pistol Thursday afternoon and kill his parents, Richard and Penny Brighton, in their home west of Fort Pierce — and then flag down a passing patrol car to turn himself in?
"There are no clear issues as to what might have provoked this," Chief Deputy Garry Wilson of the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office said at a press conference Friday afternoon. "We don't have a clear direction in this case."
They may not know why, but authorities say this is what happened:
• Jacob Brighton phoned his cousin and said he had shot his parents. His aunt, Pandora Whiting, called police, adding later she was afraid Brighton had killed himself.
• Brighton flagged down Sheriff's Office Lt. Stephen Sigmon on Orange Avenue and told him, "I've done something terrible. I've shot my parents."
When Sigmon summoned rescue workers to the house, Brighton stopped him.
"There is no point in rescue, they're dead," he said. When Sigmon insisted, Brighton said again, "No, I shot them; I know they're dead. ... I shot my dad in the back, and then my mom tried to run and I shot her in the shoulder and the neck.
"My parents are both laying (sic) on the floor in the kitchen. I didn't want my dad to suffer so I shot him again while he was on the floor," Brighton told deputies.
Brighton directed deputies to his father's truck, where they found the suspected murder weapon, a 9mm pistol, on the passenger seat.
• Richard Brighton was found lying on his back in the living room with two spots of blood on the right side of his chest. Penny Brighton was lying face down with a large pool of blood under her head and shoulders. Both were pronounced dead at 7:06 p.m. Thursday.
• Investigators found a spent 9mm round on the floor beside Richard Brighton's chest and four casings on a bed in a bedroom. A wallet with a concealed weapons permit and Richard Brighton's identification also was found in the bedroom.
• Deputies found a small bag with a few marijuana seeds and another bag with a lighter in Jacob Brighton's pocket.
• As he was sitting in the car, Brighton asked a deputy, "How powerful is a 9mm — will it go through a person?"
The deputy simply answered, "Yes." A few minutes later, when rescue workers left the house, Brighton said, "I don't want to see my parents. I don't want to see my parents."
Wilson said Brighton "didn't reveal any real motive," adding interviews with the suspect didn't give any "real clues as to his state of mind."
Vernon and Renee Davis, neighbors of the Brightons for the past six years, were just as shocked.
"I don't know what happened, don't have a clue," said Renee Davis. "They were a typical family with typical kids."
Richard and Penny Brighton, Vernon Davis said, "were good people. They sure didn't deserve what they got. I never would have thought something like that would have happened to that family."
The Davises said "Jake" Brighton was quiet and kept to himself, often in the family home playing video games.
Brighton was "picked on a lot at school, because he was heavy, I guess," said 19-year-old Kelly Davis. "He kept it all inside."
At a brief juvenile court Friday, Brighton, wearing a dark, blue-gray jumpsuit and shackles, was ordered held at the juvenile detention center until the State Attorney's Office files charges.
Typically, a parent or guardian stands at the juvenile's side during the hearing; but Whiting filled that role instead, asking that Brighton be put on suicide watch.
The public defender's office was appointed to represent Brighton, but the family said they might hire a private attorney. Family members declined to comment.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
• The State Attorney Office's has 21 days to decide how to charge Jacob Brighton and whether to prosecute him as a juvenile or an adult. If charged as an adult, he will be moved from a juvenile facility to the St. Lucie County Jail.
• Assistant State Attorney Steve Gosnell said his office could charge Brighton as an adult with second-degree murder. To charge him with first-degree murder, prosecutors would have to get a grand jury indictment.
• Because he is a juvenile, Brighton would be ineligible for the death penalty but could face life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.
• Richard Alan Brighton, 47, (He would have been 48 on Wednesday) was a self-employed drywall finisher, neighbors said.
• Penny Adele (Roberts) Brighton, 46, was a varied exceptionality teacher, working with students with physical, mental and learning disabilities in several grades, first at Lawnwood Elementary School and recently at St. Lucie Elementary School.
• According to state records, the Brightons were married on Aug. 20, 1987; their 20th anniversary would have been later this month.
• Neighbors said the couple's older son, 18-year-old Jeremiah Brighton, left the home about two weeks ago to enter Navy boot camp.
• Jacob Brighton, 16, was a student at Fort Pierce Central High School.