ELYRIA — Nick Masley will not have to serve any time in prison for his part in the death of 25-year-old Jeffrey Brooks in December 2013.
Masley, 27, was sentenced to five years of probation by Judge James Miraldi Thursday. He also was ordered to pay $4,920 in restitution to Brooks’ family for funeral expenses.
Masley had been on trial last month on murder charges, but a jury found him guilty of lesser charges of third-degree involuntary manslaughter and two counts of misdemeanor assault.
“The jury found that he did not purposely intend to cause serious physical harm,” Miraldi said. “Now we can debate that. We can say, ‘If you hit somebody that hard, you must be thinking serious physical harm.’ But the jury, not me, was required to make that decision, and I’m required to respect it. They decided, based on all the evidence, that the crime Nick Masley and his attorney were willing to plea to and accept responsibility of months ago was indeed the appropriate crime he committed.”
Defense attorney Kenneth Lieux said the sentence for a third-degree felony could be anywhere between probation to a prison sentence ranging from nine months to three years.
“Normally, if we’re looking at a felony-3 conviction, whether it be by a plea or a trial, for a person in Mr. Masley’s shoes I would submit a community control sanction would be certainly appropriate in most cases,” Lieux said. “I certainly also recognize that in this case there is an untimely death involved and the loss of a human life. We certainly don’t want to demean that.”
Assistant County Prosecutor Donna Freeman asked Miraldi to give Masley prison time for his actions, saying that Brooks died at the hands of Masley.
“If this court grants a community-control sanction as a sentence to Nick Masley, the state fears what kind of a message that sends. When will somebody stop?” Freeman said. “If community control is given for somebody that purposely punches someone in the face multiple times, and that person dies because of those actions, what message is being sent? When will it end?”
Miraldi said Masley had served nearly 14 months in Lorain County Jail, 18 months house arrest and nearly three years on probation, which also weighed into his decision to not sentence the defendant to time in prison. Masley would have been credited with 412 days of time served that would have been subtracted from any prison sentence.
During the sentencing Brooks’ mother, Christen Gunder, said Masley had been judged by a jury of 12 people.
“Jeff was charged, prosecuted and judged by one,” she said. “That person was Nick. He didn’t get rights like you, Nick. You were judge, jury and executioner. You didn’t help Kayla, your cousin. She’s still doing drugs. Why is that? She has a disease; it’s called addiction.”
Gunder said her son had so much more to offer than drugs and that he “didn’t have a chance to redeem himself.”
The original indictment against Masley charged him with murder and felonious assault in connection with the death of the Wellington man. While the state contends Masley intentionally lured Brooks to 183 Delaware Circle in Elyria, Lieux said Masley wanted to find out what was going on with his cousin, Kayla Ellis, who was engaged to Brooks.
Lieux said Masley suspected Brooks had gotten Ellis, 24, addicted to heroin.
The weeklong trial last month included testimony from a doctor who said the brain swelling that killed Brooks was not caused by the physical trauma of getting punched in the face and hitting his head but rather from the use of heroin. Dr. Werner Spitz is a renowned medical examiner who testified for the defense.
Brooks died two days after Masley hit him at 183 Delaware Circle in Elyria.
Masley apologized for his actions.
“I’m deeply sorry for my actions on that day,” he said. “I truly regret it, and I wish I could take it back. The only thing I can do is move forward from this and continue to move forward.”
Gunder said Masley failed Ellis, his family, his brother (who had died previously of a drug overdose), humanity and God.
“Nick, you have a life sentence. Forever, it will be you who caused Jeff to die. You caused the families suffering, including your own. It’s you, Nick, who has to make right with God. One day you will achieve forgiveness, but you will never forget. This will haunt you for the rest of your life.”
Gaylord Gunder, Brooks’ father, said his son was great with machines and loved the outdoors.
“He had goals,” Gaylord Gunder said. “There’s was so much more to his life than the demon that he was involved with. It breaks my heart to know my son will forever, forever be 25.”
During the sentencing Miraldi said he understood the family wouldn’t be happy with his decision.
“I’ve seen that in so many cases where the victim’s family wants the court to impose a punishment that somehow equalizes their suffering,” he said. “That’s usually not possible to do, and I’ll say that it’s not something that I think is my job to do. I don’t think that is what justice is.”
Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said his office had hoped Miraldi would sentence Masley to three years in prison.
“We felt this was the most serious form of the offense, and I believe Prosecutor Freeman argued that,” Will said. “Clearly, we felt this was something that warranted a harsher sentence. The sentencing is the purview of the judge, and we will respectfully take exception and we had a different position.”
Gaylord Gunder said he hopes his son’s death can help prevent similar deaths in the future.
“I just hope someone the loss of my son’s life somehow becomes some kind of a statement to help prevent these kinds of pointless murders,” he said. “In my heart it was a murder. I can’t change the jury’s thought on that. What are you going to do? We’re going to move forward. In the process we bear the pain and void we have of missing our son’s life.”
Click the links below to read previous reporting on the arrest, investigation and trial.
Masley’s trial began more than three years later.
♦Prosecutors said Masley lured Brooks to a trailer park to beat him and left him seriously injured
♦Brooks’ fiance testifies she was very close to her cousin before Masley’s brother died of a heroin overdose. Her relationship with Brooks strained their connection. She and Brooks were packaging heroin the day of the fight at the trailer.
♦Masley talks about the attack in video statement: “Holy crap, I didn’t mean to do that.”
♦Renowned forensic expert for defense says sucker punch not the cause of death.
♦Masley found guilty.
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