A homeless Payson man who shot and killed his friend at the Shoofly Ruins will spend the next 15 years in prison — Judge Tim Wright handing out the longest sentence available Wednesday.
A jury earlier convicted Steven Brydie of negligent homicide after a two-week trial in Globe in the shooting death of Michael “Big Mike” Whitis Jr.
During Wednesday’s sentencing, Wright heard from Big Mike’s family, who for two hours spoke of the heartbreaking loss and the toll it has taken on their lives.
“When I heard (Big Mike died) I was an inconsolable heap and in many ways I still am,” said Michael Whitis, Big Mike’s dad.
Brydie meanwhile asked the judge for the presumptive sentence so he could be with his infant daughter as she grows up.
“I am not an evil person or a monster,” he said.
The Gila County Attorney’s Office had hoped the jury would convict Brydie of second-degree murder, but the jury went with the lesser charge, finding he had not acted intentionally, but negligently. Big Mike died when a handgun Brydie was holding went off as he reportedly handed it to another person. In the early morning hours of July 28, 2018, Big Mike and Brydie had gone to the parking lot at the ruins with several other people in a minivan.
Big Mike’s death was not immediately reported to police and Brydie hid in the woods outside the ruins for several hours before turning himself in to officers.
After the trial in Globe, Brydie’s lawyer Michael Bernays, asked for a new trial, saying Brydie should have had the opportunity to cross examine Jeffrey Michael Roberts, who witnessed the shooting in a van — along with Kaylie Brown.
Wright denied that request Wednesday, moving forward with sentencing.
Jessica Richardson, with the Gila County Attorney’s Office, blamed Brydie’s drug problem for Big Mike’s death saying Brydie was under the influence.
“Drugs are not a victimless crime,” she said. “… people die.”
Richardson said that Brydie had expressed no remorse for Big Mike’s death and two letters he wrote while in jail illustrate this point.
She said while Brydie called Big Mike a dear friend, “where does he show even a little remorse ... for someone he supposedly cared about?”
She said Brydie had ample opportunity to get his drug addiction under control, but did not, adding he is a threat to the community. She asked Wright to give Brydie the aggravated maximum sentence of 15 years. The average sentence for negligent homicide is between one and four years.
Wright gave Big Mike’s family time to express their grief.
Jessica Whitis, one of Big Mike’s four sisters, said Brydie had used her brother for rides and money and preyed on her brother, who was younger than Brydie and had a mental illness.
She pleaded with Wright to sentence Brydie accordingly.
“He took my best friend, my only brother,” she said tearfully.
Big Mike’s mother described her only son as a brilliant student who excelled at sports, especially basketball, which had netted him a college scholarship.
Unfortunately, Big Mike was diagnosed with a mental illness while in college, and he returned home.
She said Big Mike was doing better in Payson having got a job. She said Big Mike was just the nicest person you would ever meet.
“My world is different now,” she said, adding she had lost her job due to the emotional toll it had taken on her and the family and she struggled with fear and anxiety.
She asked Wright to help right a wrong and give Brydie a lengthy sentence.
“I am not here for vengeance,” said Big Mike’s father, Michael Whitis, looking at Brydie across the courtroom. “I am here for justice.”
And for the first time, the two men’s eyes met.
“This is the first time you have looked at me,” Michael said. Michael asked Brydie why he had never said sorry. Why hadn’t he expressed remorse?
Michael said losing his only son had been incredibly difficult.
Bernays came to the defense of his client. He said he instructed Brydie not to look at the family during the trial or say anything — so not that Brydie didn’t want to express remorse, he could not.
Bernays said his client was homeless, on probation and hanging with the wrong crowd in Payson when the shooting occurred. He said his relationship with Roberts had been an especially bad influence on Brydie.
Bernays asked Wright for the presumptive sentence.
Finally, Brydie spoke.
He said he regretted his actions that day and wishes he had never gone to Shoofly that morning. He said he had made a mistake.
Wright noted that Brydie has two priors, unlawful use of transportation and possession of drug paraphernalia, both in 2017.
He was on probation at the time of the shooting and a prohibited possessor.
He noted Brydie’s lack of remorse in his correspondence and sentenced him to the aggravated maximum of 15 years with no chance of early release.