Subscribe for 17¢ / day

BOZEMAN — Bail was set at $1 million Friday for a former Montana State University football player charged with murdering a suspected cocaine dealer.

John LeBrum is charged with murder in the death of Jason Cody Wright, 26.

Co-defendant Branden Miller, a former MSU basketball player, is also jailed on $1 million bail. Both are charged with murder, kidnapping and destroying evidence.

Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert said he requested the high bail because of the charges and out of concern for the safety of witnesses.

Miller's lawyer, deputy public defender Eric Brewer, was in court Friday morning and could not be reached for comment.

Undersheriff Jim Oberhofer said the case doesn't speak to problems within the university's athletic department.

"It was a very sad event for the family, for the citizens of this community, et cetera," he said Friday, adding that murder cases in the area are "relatively uncommon."

According to documents filed by prosecutors, Miller told detectives that early last Friday he gave LeBrum a ride to a restaurant where Wright was dining. The two waited for Wright to come outside, then attacked him. Wright fell down, and LeBrum threw him into the back of Wright's sport utility vehicle and drove away.

Miller told authorities he drove off in a different direction in his own car.

A witness told investigators that they saw Wright running away from a maroon GMC Envoy shortly before he was killed, lunging at a vehicle trying to get them to stop.

Court records said the Envoy belonged to former Bobcat basketball player Aaron Rich, and that tire tracks from Rich's Envoy were later matched to tire tracks found near Wright's body.

A witness said Rich told her on Sunday that Wright had been shot. However, police did not publicly release Wright's name, or the fact that he had been shot, until Monday afternoon.

Wright's body was found in a field on the university's Arthur Post Agronomy Farm last Friday afternoon. The 26-year-old man died of gunshot wounds, the coroner said. Investigators found several .40-caliber shell casings near his body.

Investigators searched Wright's apartment Sunday and found "pays and owes" sheets related to drug dealing. Police said they believe Wright had been dealing cocaine and his brother, Jordan Wright, told investigators the same thing. Officers also discovered a revolver Wright kept in his bedroom was missing.

A prosecutor's affidavit said investigators found Wright's identification and several personal items in a garbage container outside an apartment building where Miller lived.

Court records said Miller told detectives Monday that he helped LeBrum wipe down Wright's vehicle with bleach and that they left it in Belgrade, where sheriff's deputies found it Tuesday. A small bag of cocaine and a bleach container were found near the vehicle.

The affidavit says James Clark, a former player and assistant basketball coach at the school, told detectives "he knew Miller had been in possession of bags with handguns and Jason Wright's identification card." Clark later directed detectives to a locker in the men's basketball locker room containing a bag with handguns.

The locker apparently belonged to one of Montana State's current basketball players, who is not a suspect.

One of the handguns found in the locker was the same caliber as the shell casings found near Wright's body, Gallatin County Sheriff James Cashell said Thursday during a news conference. They are testing it to determine if it was the murder weapon.

Lambert said the investigation is still under way and that additional people might be charged.

Miller, from Milwaukee, started 27 of 28 games for the basketball team in 2004-05, his first year at the school. He was the team's third-leading scorer at 10.8 points a game when he became academically ineligible and was dismissed last Dec. 6.

He withdrew from MSU in April, according to a news release from the school.

LeBrum, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., redshirted as a freshman in the fall of 2003. He was dismissed from the team on Aug. 30, 2004, for disciplinary reasons, sports information director Bill Lamberty said.

In October 2005, LeBrum broke a man's jaw in a fight during a pickup basketball game on campus and was convicted of felony criminal endangerment. The man's injury required reconstructive surgery and extensive dental work. LeBrum was given a six-year deferred prison term and ordered to pay nearly $35,000 in restitution.

LeBrum currently is not an MSU student, the school's news release said.

Wright was a former American Legion baseball player and coach in Livingston and Bozeman and played baseball at Miles Community College.

MSU President Geoffrey Gamble said Thursday he was saddened by the news of Wright's death.

"My thoughts continue to be with the victim's family," he said in a news release. "Today, I'm even more distressed to learn that a former student has been arrested in connection with the crime.

"Our campus police are cooperating with the sheriff's office, and we will do everything we can to support the ongoing investigation," Gamble said.

The slaying is the third high-profile case to rock the Big Sky Conference school's athletic department in the last three years.

In September 2005, former Montana State basketball player Frank Brown was sentenced to 90 days in jail for rape. He also was given a six-year deferred sentence and ordered to undergo treatment and register as a sexual offender.

Brown pleaded guilty to twice raping a 15-year-old girl, at least once when she was passed out after drinking with him.

In October 2004, former assistant head football coach Joe O'Brien was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in a methamphetamine distribution conspiracy.

O'Brien pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of meth near a school and 24 counts of money laundering. He also was sentenced to eight years of supervised release and 500 hours of community service.

Copyright © Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
0
0
0
0
0