Crime

Man sentenced in Mercer basketball player’s killing after shootout, drug deal gone bad

Judge sends killer of Mercer hoops player to prison

Bibb County Superior Court Judge Howard Simms sentences Damion Henderson for the murder of Mercer University basketball player Jibri Bryan.
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Bibb County Superior Court Judge Howard Simms sentences Damion Henderson for the murder of Mercer University basketball player Jibri Bryan.

One of the men accused of murder in the 2016 drug-deal shooting death of Mercer University basketball player Jibri Byran pleaded guilty Tuesday to voluntary manslaughter and armed robbery.

Damion Deray Henderson, who had faced murder and aggravated assault charges, was sentenced to 20 years without parole for robbery, plus an 20 additional years with 10 in prison for the manslaughter charge — a total of at least 30 years behind bars.

Henderson’s trial in Bibb County Superior Court had been previously been set for this week in the high-profile slaying, which happened outside a downtown Macon gas mart on Feb. 2, 2016.

If 37-year-old Henderson had gone to trial and been convicted of murder, he could have faced the maximum sentence of life without parole.

His negotiated plea deal bore advantages for prosecutors as well. Henderson could have been acquitted or found less culpable in a trial because Bryan, by some accounts, fired the first shots.

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Slain Mercer University guard Jibri Bryan (34) in a 2015 game against Alcorn State. Jason Vorhees jvorhees@macon.com

Had Henderson been convicted of murder, he also may just as well have received a mandatory 30-year sentence life sentence, but with the possibility of parole — in essence the sentence he received Tuesday.

‘This ruined a whole lot of people’s lives’

Henderson went on trial in June, but a judge declared a mistrial during opening arguments after a prosecutor mentioned that Henderson had been involved in drugs and guns in Atlanta, a potentially prejudicial reference to illegalities unrelated to the Bryan slaying.

On Tuesday, Bibb Superior Court Judge Howard Z. Simms asked Henderson if he had anything to say for himself. Henderson said no.

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JENNA EASON/THE TELEGRAPH Macon, GA, 02/26/2019: Bibb Superior Court Judge Howard Z. Simms says to defendant Damion Deray Henderson, one of the accused murderers of Mercer University basketball player Jibri Bryan, that the death of Bryan could have been avoided at Henderson’s sentencing hearing on Tuesday. Jenna Eason jeason@macon.com

“This didn’t have to happen,” the judge said, referring Henderson’s prior dozen-year prison term for the pawn shop robbery. “And you of all people should have understood that. ...This ruined a whole lot of people’s lives. ... You’re going to be getting gray by the time you ever get out of the penitentiary.”

Bryan’s mother, father and grandmother were present Tuesday for Henderson’s hearing. They did not address the court, but afterward Bryan’s mother, Karen Bryan, told The Telegraph that Henderson “was old enough” to get his life straight after his first prison stint, “but he chose not to.”

“For everything that happened,” she said, referring to Henderson’s role in her son’s slaying, “he probably should have gotten a little more time.”

The killing

The fatal encounter happened while Bryan was seated at the wheel of his late-model Chevrolet Monte Carlo during a drug deal he set up with Jarvis Miller, an accomplice of Henderson. Everything was captured on video surveillance, but the footage was grainy and unclear.

He had backed into a parking space beside the Flash Foods store at the corner of Forsyth and College streets, a few blocks north of the Mercer campus. Bryant and Miller had met at the store by chance the day before. They exchanged phone numbers to arrange the deal.

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JENNA EASON/THE TELEGRAPH Macon, GA, 02/26/2019: Damion Deray Henderson, one of the accused murderers of Mercer University basketball player Jibri Bryan, talks to his lawyer Franklin J. Hogue in Bibb Superior Court Judge Howard Z. Simms’ courtroom on Tuesday before Henderson is sentenced. Jenna Eason jeason@macon.com

Bryan, 23, a graduate business student, played guard for the Bears hoops squad.

Miller is afterward said to have told Henderson, an acquaintance of his, that duping Bryan in a drug-buy robbery would be a “sweet lick,” an easy mark.

Bryan, who had shown up with about $300 cash, apparently balked at the deal when the men tried to sell him fake Xanax and Bryan was told to buy them “or else.”

And that’s when the gunfire erupted.

According to prosecutors, Miller pulled a .380 pistol “to show muscle,” but when Miller wasn’t looking, Bryan whipped out a 9mm pistol of his own. Bryan fired three shots at Miller, one of which struck Miller in the side of the neck, prosecutors have said. Miller got off one shot before his pistol jammed, but the bullet he fired struck Bryan in the head, likely killing him.

Meanwhile, Henderson, who had been standing outside the driver’s side of Bryan’s Monte Carlo, reached in the window and grabbed Bryan’s gun. He shot Bryan again, this time in the neck, prosecutors say, a wound that also would probably have been fatal.

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Jarvis Miller in Bibb County Superior Court on Tuesday. Miller was Damion Deray Henderson’s accomplice in the 2016 robbery that resulted in the shooting death of Mercer University basketball player Jibri Bryan. Joe Kovac Jr. jkovac@macon.com

The wounded Miller ran, but was caught by police a block or two away near Orange Street. He later confessed and told on Henderson, who fled home to Atlanta and was arrested days later.

Henderson, who is from Atlanta’s south side, spent a dozen years in prison earlier this century for a Jonesboro pawn shop heist that happened when he was 18.

On Tuesday afternoon, Miller appeared before Judge Simms and pleaded guilty to armed robbery for his role in the Bryan case. Miller, 27, who had no prior criminal record, cooperated with the police and told on Henderson. He was sentenced to 20 years — 15 behind bars and five on parole.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.

Joe Kovac Jr. covers crime and courts for The Telegraph with an eye for human-interest stories. A Warner Robins native, he joined the paper in 1991 after graduating from the University of Georgia.
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