Jury finds man guilty of second-degree murder in DWI death

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By Rachel Johnson, Staff Writer

BOLIVIA—In a trial that lasted less than a week, a Brunswick County jury has found Daniel Harrison Brennick, 25, Southport, guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Satu Harris.

Harris, 38, of Oak Island, a mother of three, died on the scene of the wreck around 11:30 p.m. May 7, 2010.

Harris’ car was hit head-on by a truck driven by Brennick. The wreck was on N.C. 133 about 3.5 miles north of Southport.

Brennick was also found guilty of felony death by vehicle and DWI.

According to testimony, Brennick had been drinking at Duffer’s in Oak Island before driving. Several witnesses testified they offered him a ride and/or offered to call a cab.

Other witnesses testified Brennick’s white truck was seen driving recklessly just minutes prior to the wreck that claimed Harris’ life.

“Satu Harris was killed by Daniel Brennick on May 7, 2010. She’s not here to tell you what happened. She’s not here to be with her family,” assistant district attorney Gina Essey said during closing statements last Friday morning. “Daniel Brennick got intoxicated. Four people who saw him at a bar, four people who work at a bar, four people that serve drinks for a living, said he was intoxicated. Daniel Brennick got in his truck and drove home. Daniel Brennick’s truck became his weapon.”

Essey addressed defense lawyer Michael Ramos’ questioning whether or not Brennick was the driver of the truck and that the state may have messed up the blood alcohol test. Brennick’s blood alcohol level was a .24.

“Point zero eight is the presumptive limit of impairment under the law,” Essey said. “There were four people working at Duffers that told you they saw Mr. Brennick drinking. There was beer scattered all over the wreck scene; it was cold to the touch. There was an open beer in his truck. He was offered a taxi at least six times. He refused.”

Witnesses testified Brennick was spinning his tires and driving fast over the grass when he left Duffer’s.

“What we heard is he was all over the road—up on a bumper of an ambulance, swerving around an ambulance. He drove by so fast EMS workers are trying to get his license plate number and can’t get it,” Essey said.

Other witnesses saw Brennick’s truck cross a concrete median and drive into the wrong lane into oncoming traffic, driving another car off the road.

Testimony also revealed Brennick ran over a hurricane sign on the right-hand side of the road and sped past other vehicles crossing the center line numerous times.

“How fast did he have to be going to do this to her car and fly off the road tumbling and skidding on the driver’s side 300 feet?” Essey asked the jury as she showed a photograph of Harris’ car. “There were headlights in her lane, and then she’s dead.”

Brennick’s driving record, which includes two previous convictions for reckless driving and a conviction for driving after consuming alcohol before age 21, was admitted as evidence during the trial.

“He knew better because the courthouse told him twice don’t drive like that,” Essey told the jury. “What was going to stop him that night? There was no regard for human life or social duty…He was driving at a high rate of speed in the wrong lane with no attention to the safety of other drivers. He was deliberately bent on mischief. He ignored all warnings for safety that night.

“He intentionally got in his white truck and drove. There was a case of beer in the truck. He was a deliberate reckless driver. He was a deliberate impaired driver.

“It is not even possible to accidentally drive the way he drove that night. He had a complete indifference to the result of his actions that night.”
Essey addressed the idea that Brennick wasn’t the driver of the white truck that hit Harris as the defense called into question.

“Is it possible to believe that within seconds the driver of this truck disappeared uninjured,” Essey said as she showed the jury a photo of Brennick’s truck. “Daniel Brennick was found twisted up and bloody. He was thrown from the truck.”

Brennick sustained major injuries as a result of the wreck, and his leg was amputated.

“There is absolutely no reasonable way in this world that the driver of this truck was unharmed. There was only one injured person on that scene—Daniel Brennick. The only other person in the wreck isn’t here with us. She is dead,” Essey continued.

“There was no attempt whatsoever for one second of safe driving in this case. Not one foot in the 8 miles we have testimony for was there an attempt for safe driving. This isn’t just a drunk that killed someone. This is much more.

“This is some of the worst driving you can hear testimony about. Daniel Brennick’s weapon was his truck that night. The evidence shows this is much more than someone who was impaired and wrecked. Daniel Brennick deliberately and intentionally got in his truck. There was no regard for social duty. He’d been told, ‘Don’t do this.’

“On May 7, 2010, Daniel Brennick’s utter disregard for what he did and who got hurt killed Satu Harris. She’s not going home to her children.”

After not presenting an opening statement or calling any witnesses on behalf of the defense, Ramos delivered a closing statement in which he began by calling upon the jury  “not to be swayed by sympathy.”

“It is obvious we have deep sympathy for Ms. Harris and her family,” he said. “It is every parent’s worst nightmare, no matter the age…It’s not about sympathy. It’s about the state proving beyond a reasonable doubt…That is their burden not mine. My job is to ask questions and call them into doubt…There is no credible witness or evidence that shows Mr. Brennick was driving.”

It took the jury just a few minutes short of an hour to deliberate and to return a verdict of guilty of second-degree murder, felony death by vehicle and DWI. Judge Thomas Lock sentenced Brennick to a minimum of 180 months (15 years) and a maximum of 225 months (18.75 years) in prison. Brennick was given credit for 71 days of time served. Lock also recommended Brennick take part in substance abuse treatment while in the department of corrections.

During the sentencing hearing, Brennick spoke to the judge.

“I have sympathy for Satu Harris and the results of my actions. When I get up in the morning and put that leg on and look in the mirror I’m reminded every single day,” he said.

Brennick lost his leg after injuries sustained in the wreck.

During the hearing, Essey notified the judge that Brennick was currently in custody “because he is continuing to break the law.” He faces drug charges that occurred while he was on house arrest.

Brennick’s criminal record, which dates back to 2006 and includes violations of protective orders, harassing and threatening language on the phone, reckless driving, driving after consumption while under 21 and assault on an officer, was taken into consideration during sentencing.

Harris’ friends and family gave victims’ impact statements prior to Lock’s sentence being delivered. They each asked the judge to “make Daniel Brennick pay for what he did” saying, “this wasn’t an accident, it was murder.”

As Brennick was escorted from the courtroom at the conclusion of sentencing, he turned to his mother who was seated behind the defense table and said, “Mom, make sure I get that appeal.”

Next as Brennick passed the prosecution’s table, he said, “I’ll see ya’ll again.”

Ramos filed a notice of appeal at the conclusion of the trial.


Rachel Johnson is a staff writer at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or rjohnson@brunswickbeacon.com.