Nearly three years after he took on the homicide case of 23-year-old Mercer student and basketball player Jibri Bryan, District Attorney David Cooke said he feels justice has finally been served.
“Our number-one goal in this was to get justice for Jibri, his family and the community,” Cooke said.
Bryan, a graduate student in the business school and standout player for the Bears, died Feb. 2, 2016 when he was shot during a drug deal in downtown Macon.
Damion Deray Henderson, 37, was sentenced just over three years later on Feb. 26 to 30 years in prison followed by 10 years on probation for voluntary manslaughter and armed robbery. Jarvis Clinton Miller, 27, received 15 years in prison and five years of parole for armed robbery—a lighter sentence due to cooperation with police, according to Cooke.
In February 2016, Bryan had arranged to meet with Henderson and Miller at the Flash Foods gas station on College and Forysth streets to purchase Xanax. When he arrived, Miller entered Bryan’s vehicle and attempted to sell him fake product for $300.
According to The Telegraph, Bryan likely realized the pills were not authentic and asked for his money back, but Miller pulled a gun to threaten him into buying the fakes. Bryan, however, pulled his own gun. It is unclear who shot first, but Bryan shot Miller in the neck and Miller shot Bryan in the head.
Henderson approached the vehicle, took Bryan’s weapon, fatally shot him and fled with his cash. Police later caught up with Miller, who implicated Henderson.
Although Bryan was a student, Cooke said his sudden death had an impact outside of Mercer.
“This really hit the community hard, not just the Mercer community but the greater Middle Georgia community. I think there was just this shock and dismay that this happened,” he said. “(Bryan) had won a humanitarian award, not that long before. He was known for caring about the community, not just for being a talented basketball player.”
Henderson and Miller first appeared in court for Bryan’s death in June 2018, but it was ruled a mistrial.
“There was a question of whether or not the way something was presented was proper, so out of an abundance of caution, a mistrial was created just to protect Mr. Henderson’s rights,” Cooke said.
According to The Telegraph, Associate District Attorney Sandra Matson said in her opening remarks that Henderson and Miller’s past “involved guns, and it involved dope.”
Franklin Hogue, the Macon lawyer who represented Henderson, objected on the grounds that Matson’s comment unfairly implied criminal history and asked for a mistrial ruling.
While the retrial was scheduled for January 2019, Cooke said Henderson chose instead to negotiate a plea deal. Had the retrial taken place, Henderson could have been convicted of murder and given a life sentence, Cooke said.
The Telegraph reported that the negotiation benefited prosecutors as well; the retrial could have resulted in even lighter charges for Henderson and Miller had the jury decided that Bryan fired his weapon first.
“Anyone who understands the court system knew that this was a good sentence for us, particularly in light of the facts,” Cooke said.
He said Henderson will be eligible for parole after 20 years, but will likely spend all 30 behind bars “because of his previous record.”
“The significance of that is for a life sentence, people typically serve 30 years, so it was very close to the same sentence he would’ve gotten had he been convicted of murder,” he said.
Cooke said that before negotiating the plea deal, his team discussed the offer with Bryan’s family to ensure their support. The Cluster reported in 2016 that according to teammates, Bryan’s family was always his priority, and he was known for taking trips home to Savannah to visit his mother and two-year-old son, Jibri Jr.
“Whenever we had free time [or] a day off — they could give us an hour off — he was going home to see little Jibri,” teammate Jestin Lewis said. “He would say, ‘I’m gonna go see little man.’”
At the time of his death, Bryan was dating a member of Mercer’s dance team, Nia Jordan, and had just three classes left to take to earn a Master’s degree — a goal he told Jordan he was pursuing in honor of his grandmother.
“Overall, it was a sad and tragic case, but I’m grateful that we were able to get justice for Jibri,” Cooke said.