WAKEFIELD — Alexander J. Brown, the defendant in the 2017 manslaughter death of John Gardiner, has chosen to accept a plea deal previously presented by prosecutors and will serve seven years in prison.
Brown, 25, appeared Tuesday morning before Superior Court Associate Justice Melanie Wilk Thunberg in Washington County Superior Court and entered a no-contest plea to one count of manslaughter. Under the plea agreement, he was given a 20-year sentence with seven years to serve before he would be eligible for parole.
As part of the agreement, a charge of disorderly conduct was dismissed. If he had not accepted the agreement, the case would have gone to trial on Oct. 15.
For Gardiner's mother, Linda Melbourne-Van Dyke, of Hopkinton, the sentencing brought some relief, but she said no outcome would ever make her happy because it could not bring back her son.
"No amount of time would ever be enough, but if it had gone to trial then who knows whether he would have received less," she said.
During Tuesday's hearing, Brown requested an opportunity to make a statement and apologized to the court and those in attendance. He called the incident a terrible accident and that he had been "forever changed" by it.
Brown, of Ashaway, was arrested within 24 hours of the incident, which occurred on July 30, 2017, in the Main Street Plaza at about 2:30 a.m. Multiple police sources have said that the encounter, lasting about 15 seconds, was captured on video and showed Gardiner, 45, brush Brown as they were between two cars in the parking lot. Gardiner, of School Street in Westerly, began walking away. Brown turned and struck Gardiner, who immediately fell.
According to an autopsy report, Gardiner suffered "multiple trauma to the head."
The surveillance video was submitted as evidence, but has not been released to the media or otherwise been made public.
Brown pleaded not guilty in March 2018 and was scheduled to go to trial in August, but the trial was delayed after he withdrew from an agreement to waive his right to a jury trial and requested that the case go before a 12-member jury.
The prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Trovato, said during the August hearing that Brown had twice rejected a plea bargain of a sentence of 20 years, with seven years to serve. Melbourne-Van Dyke said Tuesday that Trovato notified her about two weeks ago that Louis B. Cappuccio Jr., Brown's lawyer, had reached out to see if the prosecution would offer the same agreement.
Brown has stated in court and police interviews that he was attacked first and was defending himself, but the police said any such interaction was not captured by the surveillance camera. Gardiner's supporters have said that he did not throw any punches and never had a chance to defend himself.
Melbourne-Van Dyke, in a statement to the courts and in an interview after the hearing, recalled her final moments with her son. She said she will never be able to forget how helpless he looked.
"The last time I saw my son, he was in Rhode Island Hospital unconscious with tubes in him. He had just returned from brain surgery and was lying there with half his skull missing," she said. "His brain and his lungs were both so badly damaged that there was little chance of survival, and I told the doctor it was time to take him off life support."
"I still remember holding his hands and thinking to myself, 'They are too perfect.' He never got the chance to defend himself," she said.
Cappuccio and the Office of the Attorney General did not respond to messages on Tuesday afternoon.
Melbourne-Van Dyke said she has been thankful for the support she's received from the community, noting that she has heard countless stories about her son, whom friends and business partners described as “always friendly.” She said that the sentencing isn't the end, however, and that she plans to follow up in seven years when Brown is eligible for parole.
"It's not over and it won't be for a while. I will be at every hearing to remind (Brown) of what he did," she said. "For now, he's in jail and I feel that he is right where he belongs."