Brendon Owen Arraigned on Murder, Bail Denied
Above, the remains of the Shirley Branco Owen home a few days after the murder.
Facing arraignment on murder and numerous other charges at Norfolk Superior Court in Dedham, Thursday afternoon, defendant Brendon Owen appeared before Judge Douglas Wilkins, pleading not guilty to all charges. And, after statements from both the prosecution and defense, he was ordered held without bail until a pretrial hearing on April 4.
Assistant District Attorney Tracy Cusick summarized the case against Owen as follows:
The Commonwealth asks at this time that the defendant be detained without bail until the completion of trial, a defendant charged with first degree murder is not entitled to bail as a matter of statutory rights, but only as a matter of judge’s discretion. The stronger the evidence, the greater the likelihood that the defendant will be convicted and hence, the greater the defendant’s incentive to plate. The facts of this case are egregious, and the strength of the evidence is compelling.
At 7:39 on December 17, 2021, a Ring camera captured 74-year-old Mary Branco wearing her pajamas, frantically begging her neighbor to call police because her son-in-law, Brendon Owen, this defendant, was beating Mary Branco’s daughter, Shirley Branco. And Shirley Owen had divorced the defendant years earlier and a permanent Abuse Prevention order was issued by the Norfolk probate court. And it prohibited him from contacting Shirley, and their two teenage children, and it required him to stay away from the residence at 11 Grace Lane in Franklin, where Shirley, her mother, and the two children lived. Mary Branco was alone in the house because Shirley Owen drove her children to school. The defendant confronted Mary Branco, he called her a c____ and he said you are not taking my kids away from me.
The defendant ordered her into a bedroom and when she did not immediately get on the floor hit her on the head with a pipe, a pipe that he brought into the house. He smashed her cell phone. He ordered her into a bathroom, where she was made to lie face down on the floor and tied her mouth and legs with duct tape. Before leaving the bathroom, he said `don't you try and warn her.’ Mary Branco heard her daughter screaming as Mary Branco escaped from the house and sought help.
Police arrived within minutes. Mary Branco had duct tape on her head and was bleeding as she stood outside, sobbing that her daughter was still inside the house. Officers tried to enter the house, but the front door was locked. And through a backdoor on the deck, officers saw the defendant dressed all in black crouched near a burning couch. They ordered him to open the door ...
The defendant walked towards officers. He sprayed liquid then struck a match. Smoke prevented officers from entering the house through that door. Another officer saw the defendant through the front door and ordered him out of the house. The defendant came out the front door with a black backpack and walked towards the officer. The defendant said f___ you and disobeyed repeated verbal commands to stop moving. The defendant stopped only after the officer deployed a Taser. Other officers dragged Shirley Own who was nonresponsive from the burning house through the garage. Severe traumatic injuries to Shirley Owens head were obvious and life-saving efforts were unsuccessful.
Shirley Owen was pronounced dead on the scene. The medical examiner found trauma to five areas of Shirley Owen’s skull, wounds on her legs, wounds on her thigh, wounds on her hand, wounds on her forearms, and wounds on her shoulders. There was bruising on her forearm, bruising on her shoulders. She had a fractured jaw and post mortem burns.
Mary Branco was taken to a hospital by ambulance and received stitches to the head. Firefighters battled the blaze, which by 8 am had engulfed the house. The remnants of the house were razed for safety reasons, and only the foundation and a white picket fence remain.
The family dog was not recovered.
At arrest, the defendant was wearing black pants, a black jacket, a black knit cap, black sneakers, and had an athletic cup over his genitals. He had blood on his hands, clothing and sneakers. Among items on his person were three pieces of paper. One was a handwritten checklist which included directions to 11 Grace Lane, and the words lighter fluid, shovel, plastic, black car flooring, lighter, flash, coat, shower, new sneakers, change of clothes, black plastic wrap, lime, Gatorade, cough drops. Contents of the defendant’s black backpack included a blood-stained hammer, a blood-stained metal pipe, a blood stain plastic bag, zip ties, lighters, rolls of trash bags, pepper gels and headlamp, cutting tools, screwdrivers, a shirt, hooded sweatshirt, sweatpants, $500 cash, and his Massachusetts driver's license.
Around 7am that morning an off-duty Franklin police officer who lives near 11 Grace Lane, saw a white man in all black clothing with a black backpack disappear onto another neighbor's property. Investigating this man’s suspicious activity, the officer located an unoccupied Toyota Rav4. parked nearby on Mercer Street.
The Rav4 was registered to the defendant’s mother, with whom the defendant lived in East Bridgewater. Inside the Rav4 were bags of lime, a small metal shovel, packaging for the pepper gel, large plastic trash bags, handwritten note and a receipt for the purchase of the pepper gel. These items had not been present when the defendant’s mother used her Rav4f the day before. Phone records show that on November 22, 2021. The defendant repeatedly contacted his teenage son's phone. Shirley Owen had reported this violation of the abuse prevention order to the Franklin Police and a clerk's hearing had been scheduled. The defendant had gone to sleep uncharacteristically early on December 16. And he left the house in his mother's RAV4 before sunrise on December 17, 2021.
The defendant did not have his iPhone Mini or his wallet with him at arrest because he had hidden those items in his mother's home.
On January 20 2022, a grand jury indicted this defendant for first degree murder, armed assault in a dwelling house, armed home invasion, kidnapping, arson, assault with battery, a dangerous weapon on person over 60, and two violations of a 209 order. In addition to the strength of the Commonwealth’s case, the Commonwealth would like to address the defendant’s motion for relief and statements made in that motion.
Contrary to his claims that he was compliant and cooperative with police at all times during the investigation and apprehension of him. The defendant was belligerent and confrontational. He was not apprehended near 11 Grace Lane, he was inside 11 Grace Lane when officers first encountered him and instead of opening the door when officers ordered him to do so the defendant sprayed lighter fluid at the officers and set the house on fire. When he finally emerged from the burning house, he refused to comply with an order to stop moving and he was stopped only after he was Tazed. He said f___ you to police. His presence at 11 Grace Lane on December 17, 2021 demonstrates that in addition to failing to comply with other orders of the probate court, he failed to comply with a permanent restraining order requiring him to stay away from Shirley Owen and 11 Grace lane. His motion to admit him to bail acknowledges that he failed to comply with the order and that he that he had contact with his son.
Significantly, regarding some of the claims the defendant is now making to this court. The defendant notes that he coached children's sports. But the probate court judge found that the defendants aggressive behavior resulted in him being prevented from coaching children's recreational sports in the town of Franklin, and even attending events on town of Franklin property.
That judge also found that DCF, the Department of Children and Family, previously supported complaints of physical abuse of the children by the defendant, and that the defendant had become increasingly abusive to Shirley Branco Owen, and including calling her vulgarity while waiting for the divorce trial to begin. In addition to being a flight risk because of the serious nature of the charges. ample evidence shows that the crimes were premeditated and the defendant did not intend to be apprehended. He had notes and checklists showing meticulous planning, as well as his intention to return to his mother's house, later that day, with the vehicle that he shared with her. He had parked a few streets away from 11 Grace Lane. He came out of the house because it was on fire.
The defendant’s statements about his financial resources in recorded calls to his mother from the Dedham House of Correction are inconsistent with the representations in the motion to admit to bail and filings in the probate court. His motion notes that he receives disability and also claims that he has been seeking employment in recorded calls on December 28 2021. He claims to have extensive financial resources including cash retirement accounts and stocks and asked his mother to use her computer to check the value of this stock. Additionally, he tells his mother that she should mortgage her home to have him released on bail.
The defendant’s motion to admit bail with multiple family members who live within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Absent from the motion is any representation that any of these family members would be able or willing to help the defendant. Nor would that be appropriate were the defendant meticulously planned the murder of Shirley Branco and while living in his mother's house, and using her automobile to facilitate his crime.
The Commonwealth has been informed by a family representative that he is not welcome in their homes. Importantly, DCF has obtained a 209 order against the defendant on behalf of the children who are currently with Mary Branco and in foster placement as the defendant destroyed their residence. Mary Branco is in obvious fear of this defendant. For all of the above reasons, Your Honor, the Commonwealth asks that the defendant be held without bail on this heinous matter. Thank you.
Defense Attorney Neil Madden spoke for Owen, citing background, medical condition:
It's clear that in a murder case, a capital case, that the court only has just discretion to make a determination of whether a person is entitled to bail. I'd suggest that there are a lot of factors that go into that decision. And the court in Vasquez
was clear and said that the court must weigh all the factors, including the defendant’s background, his life and his prior history with the criminal justice system, as well as any chance that he has a likelihood that he has of fleeing the Commonwealth if released on bail, as well as the strength of the Commonwealth case. And putting that all sort of in the context of fact, that is the case that could at the end of the day results in life, life in prison.
But I'd suggest that if you look at all those factors, and you weigh them carefully, and look at it carefully, the biggest factor that sticks out for you is the fact that Mr. Brendon Owen will not flee the Commonwealth and cannot flee the Commonwealth under any circumstance whatsoever. He, six or seven years ago was diagnosed with seizures, and where he suffers from grand mal seizures. In 2016, he suffered his first one and resulted in him losing his job at John Hancock as a portfolio analyst and an account manager. And he has not been employed since, however, that hasn't stopped him from looking for one; and I have a stack of letters from different places that he has continued to look for employment. He's a man who worked in Brockton, graduated from Cardinal Spellman high school, went to UMass Amherst and graduated from there and then went to Suffolk University for his master's degree in business. And he went to Suffolk University while he was working at State Street Bank and John Hancock, the guy who places education high on his checklist of things that to stress and something that he's always placed high on the on the checklist of things that he wants his children to achieve. He met Shirley back in 1998 while they were both working at Fidelity but since the onset of those grand mal seizures, he has had to have constant medical care and he is treated with Dr. Schwab up out of the Brigham and Women's the South Shore Hospital neurology center, and he sees her at least once a month and he is dependent on her treatment or her care and her prescriptions.
He has to take medication every night to prevent the grand mal seizures when he was first taken into custody...they would not allow his medicine to follow. He missed his prescriptions the first night of incarceration. The next night he had two grand mal seizures. The guy has no chance at all leaving the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, he has to have medical care on a daily basis and he has to have medical care that is accessible. But it's something that he is able to, to get a hold of. And this has to be with highly trained doctors. So, he has one here that suggests that that alone would prevent him from ever leaving the Commonwealth, that suggests, secondly suggests the fact that since he got the seizures, he's been out of work. He's on disability, income, that is his sole source of income. And contrary to what my sister [e.g. the prosecutor] says about these huge stock accounts, those are his mother's accounts, which he helps manage, because of his profession, his training and his education in business. So, he helps his mother manage them. So, when he talks to his mother say, you know, let me see what your accounts are doing. That's what he's talking about, that talks about his account, he doesn't have accounts. Yeah, [there was] a battle with his ex-wife, about, you know, about money that was supposed to be distributed at the outset, you know, after the divorce, and he never received it. So, therefore, he went and lived with his mother. And I suggest since 2014, or 15, when the divorce started, till the present, he stayed with his mother at a 55 and older.
The community is not exactly the place that would expect to find a guy who has all this disposable income at his at his disposal, he was still put that he was living there, sort of as the last option is the guy who met this lady, Miss Owens, in 1998. They had two beautiful children. I have videos of those children, making videos of themselves telling how much they love their dad, how much they care. Thank you for being such a great dad.
I have other videos of these videos on his phone that he saved of them...skiing and other things. He was a very present dad for the bulk of their marriage and time where he coached every sport. And he never had any trouble with anybody in that time. He never had any trouble. He's never been put off a team because he was a violent or abusive. He was one of the best coaches in that town. There are other coaches in that town he is still friends with because of how good he was with this kid coaching basketball, he coached baseball, he goes by football; anything those kids wanted to play he’d be there. And he took care of them.
And at night, he’d go home with them, and do their homework. And he read to them. And it tells them you know, you got to get the best education you can. And at the same time that's happening, Shirley was in her career at Fidelity, working hard every day, working hard but bringing, her work home, basically not paying any attention to these kids.
And then she convinces him to build a house in Franklin. And they do so at the end of 2012. They move in at the end of 2013. And a year later, the lady pulls out a restraining order to keep him away from those kids for the rest of his life. And they're after divorcing him and taking that house they just built.
Okay, so there's a little bit more of a story than just do what he what the what happened on December 17. And it wasn't that he contacted his son to violate that permanent restraining order.
His son contacted him, reached out to him on November 21. His text messages on his phone of his son talking about how much they want to see him that I can't stand my mother. She won't let me talk to you. And went on. And they had a discourse for a week. Finally, after five years, he's starting to talk to son. His son's going out in the shed in the backyard to talk to his father, the guy he's been taken away from, ripped away from in 2016. And he doesn't even know why. His son reaches back out to him. And the last day on the 25th the mother finds out, walks in on the kid. He's talking to his dad, what are you doing? You talk to the Father? Five days later he gets he gets a clerk magistrate hearing for application for criminal complaints.
But ...that's the life he was living. And that's what happened to him. So, I think there's more to this case than just playing the facts of what happened on December 17. And when we get into it, we'll find out how much more there is. But I'd suggest the case isn't a slam dunk, as they say there's always other sides of the story. So, I think the important thing for the court to consider, and whether you admit him to bail.
I know maybe some of the family doesn't want to go back to his mother's house, they don't think that that's a positive place for him.
He tells me I don't want to leave the Commonwealth, I want to stay here and fight this case. There's no way that they're going to take me and put me away unless I get a full fair fight. And he has a constitutional right to be able to engage his attorney and every step of the way, and if he's out of prison, I can see him every day and talk to him and work with him and go to the scene and go to other places.
He's not getting the complete picture, that constitutional right of his. So, I'd ask the court to consider that. And also ask the court to consider any other prior history. Yeah, he's got a couple of restraining orders out of the probate court. And for six years, he didn't do anything about those since 2014, when they first came out until 2021, when his son contacted him, you know, violated those.
He suffered. He lived before he heard from his mother, how the kids were doing. And that's it. So, I suggested he's not in violation of those orders. That suggests that there's no other criminal history to have, I have a girlfriend [of Owen] that called me after this. And she said, I can't believe that this is; that's totally outside of what I know, of Brendon Owens as a person. He never even called me a bitch, one girl said to me, besides he's not like that.
That suggests that the court should consider maybe all the other aspects ...and the bail statute, when considering whether to set a bail, and we're not asking for some sort of modest bail to $20,000, it was saying something substantial or asking for $200,000.
And if the court deems it should be more than maybe it should be more, but that's for the court’s discretion. I don't know if he'll be able to make it but at least it's somewhere that he can set a goal. But I would just ask that, you know, consideration of all the factors involved in this case, and all the factors involved in Mr. Owen, that a bail is something that should be set in this case.