SACRAMENTO — Sharon Brown cursed the killer. Then she walked out of the courtroom and flipped off his family.
Brown's anger and her hurt emanated from the violent death of her 26-year-old daughter. They were compounded by her inability to extract the young woman from a fatal relationship.
On Monday, a Sacramento Superior Court jury convicted Demario Richard Wiggins of second-degree murder in the July 20, 2009, shooting death of Tersha Brown. But the verdict did little to fill the void, to soften the rage, of the slain woman's mother.
Outside the courtroom, Sharon Brown showed the text messages from her daughter that she's kept stored in her cell phone.
"Do you think you could come down here for the summer?" Tersha Brown asked on June 9, 2009. The second message came eight days later: "Can you come down here? I really have to move."
Living near Seattle in Silverdale, Wash., Sharon Brown said she knew her daughter – a one-time softball star good enough to get a full-ride college scholarship – was having trouble in her relationship with the mysterious Wiggins, whom the parents never met.
They said they did know he blew about $80,000 of her cash on dope and gambling, and that he carried on with other women.
Sharon Brown worried about the phone messages. She said she asked her daughter questions, offered advice. But she couldn't find a way to get her away from Wiggins, who shot her down with a slug from a .45 semiautomatic handgun to the head.
"I tried to reach out to her," Sharon Brown said through her tears. "As a mother, I now have to live with this for the rest of my life."
Wiggins, 31, slumped into a heap on the defense table when the jury returned its verdict. Police said that's similar to how they found him the day of the killing, when they described him as being "hysterical."
Judge Russell L. Hom scheduled Wiggins' sentencing for Dec. 10. He faces 80 years to life in prison – 15 years to life on the second-degree murder conviction, 25 to life for the use of a firearm in a murder, and all of the penalties doubled under the state's "three-strikes" law. He has a prior assault conviction on an ex-girlfriend.
Sharon Brown and her husband, Terry, a project superintendent at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, described their daughter as a woman on the cusp of her prime.
After a year at New Mexico State, she transferred to Sonoma State University, where she continued to play softball and majored in English. She stayed in the Bay Area after her graduation and eventually was hired as a human relations manager for Williams-Sonoma, the upscale cookery company.
Although they now live in Washington, the Browns raised their family in Vacaville until the Mare Island Naval Shipyard closure led them to move north. Tersha stayed in the Bay Area after graduation and reconnected with an old girlfriend in Vacaville who introduced her to Demario Wiggins on a night out in Sacramento three years ago.
"She just loved everybody, and she would help anybody in need, and that was part of the problem for her," her dad said. "She saw this guy, and he sucked her in to help him."
Ex-con Wiggins had been out of prison a few years when Brown met him. Her parents said he used her almost from the very beginning. He took her BMW to deal drugs in Stockton and Sacramento, they said. He ran her tens of thousands into debt and threatened to kill her grandmother and other family members if she didn't give him more money to support his vices, according to the family.
A prosecutor's trial brief said Wiggins had $3,500 in cash, as well as marijuana and methamphetamine and a digital scale commonly used for drug dealing, in his car at the time of his arrest.
Wiggins' family members declined to discuss the case, as did Deputy District Attorney Kevin Greene. Defense attorney Paris D. Cole said only, "The jury made its findings."
Sharon Brown said she would ask her daughter, "Why are you with this loser?"
"She'd say, 'Not everybody has the life I do,' that not everybody was brought up by good parents and had a good life. She'd say, 'Mom, you don't understand.' "
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