A 17-year-old Ridgelandyouth was sentenced Monday to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to killing Proctor Bright, a decorated World War II veteran who once taught high school mechanics and welding and had spent his later years trying to help troubled young people.
A beloved fixture in his community, Bright had been honored by the state for his citizenship in 2007, with March 29 designated as "Proctor Bright Day" in Ridgeland. He was also a mechanic and owner of the oldest continuously operating black business in Jasper County.
Breon Alexandre was 15 on July 18, 2008, when he broke into Bright's home and brutally beat, shot and stabbed the 86-year-old man.
The teen pleaded guilty Monday to murder, armed robbery and first-degree burglary, said 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone. Family Court Judge Peter Fuge ruled in September that Alexandre could be tried as an adult.
"This was one of the most senseless murders I've ever seen in my time as solicitor," Stone said. "Alexandre received a 40-year sentence, and he will do every day of that sentence."
Alexandre made an emotional apology in court Monday as Bright's four daughters and other relatives looked on.
"Proctor was 86, had lived through World War II and a typhoon, to die at the hands of a 15-year-old," Stone said. "We have to accept that some 15-year-olds are capable of the same evil that adults are. Alexandre couldn't have said anything that would have moved me, but I hope the sentence gives the family some peace."
Bright's daughter, Theresa Brown, who lived next door to her father's Grahamville Road home, checked on him the night before the murder and found him alive and well. She had no contact with him Friday, July 18. When she visited her father around 8 a.m. Saturday, she discovered his body.
She told Circuit Judge J. Ernest Kinard on Monday she hasn't returned to Bright's home since his murder.
Bright had been married 52 years to his wife, Dora. In 2007, Bright co-founded the "He Whispered a Dream Foundation" to distribute a teen version of the Bible to youths, some of them in jail.
Authorities said Alexandre left his Ridgeland home at about 3 a.m. July 18, 2008, hitchhiked three miles to Bright's home and stood on a blue cooler to climb through a window. After finding Bright's .22-caliber rifle, the teen woke the elderly man and led him to a back room in the house. The boy began beating Bright, who fought back and hit the teen with a board, investigators said.
The boy ordered Bright to lie on the ground. When he refused and advanced on the teen, Alexandre fired Bright's rifle. As Bright lay wounded on the floor, the boy went to the kitchen, found a knife and cut his throat, Stone said.
The teen took the rifle and fled the home in Bright's 1992 Lincoln after pulling the keys and $35 cash from the dead man's pocket. In Clarendon County on Interstate 95, about 100 miles north of Ridgeland, the Lincoln caught fire and rolled to a stop. A tow-truck driver bought the car for $65 and the rifle for $25, Stone said.
The tow-truck driver then drove the teen to a nearby bus station. From there, Alexandre took a bus to Greensboro, N.C., to meet a woman whom he had met over the Internet. He was arrested there four days after the slaying, Stone said.
Stone said the robbery and murder were Alexandre's attempt to avoid a summons to Family Court the day of the murder. The teen was on probation for an April 2008 incident in which he had taken a gun and car keys from the home of a local 87-year-old, Stone said.
"I don't believe he knew Proctor," Stone said. "I believe his history showed that he preyed on older people. This whole murder was because he needed a bus ticket out of the county, which makes it all the more tragic."