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Originally published May 15, 2009 at 2:47 PM | Page modified May 15, 2009 at 4:59 PM

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Man sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for traffic-circle slaying

A 29-year-old man who fatally punched a South Seattle man during a confrontation at a traffic circle last summer was sentenced this afternoon to slightly more than 11 years and three months in prison.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A 29-year-old Renton man who fatally punched a South Seattle man during an argument at a traffic circle last summer was sentenced this afternoon to just over 11 years and three months in prison.

Brian Keith Brown apologized for the slaying of James Paroline, but said that he was coming to the defense of a group of girls who were arguing with the Rainier Beach man. Paroline, 60, was gardening inside a traffic circle when Brown confronted him.

The single punch broke Paroline's nose and caused him to fall to the pavement. Paroline died from a head injury.

After the beating, Brown was on the run for about a week.

In a letter he recently filed with King County Superior Court, Brown said he is "sickened" by what he did.

"I had no intention of causing the death of James Paroline but that I know that but for my actions he would be alive," Brown wrote in the letter.

Brown, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in March, has prior convictions for assault, drug possession, trespassing and driving with a suspended license.

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of 11 years and four months in prison. Brown's defense lawyer, Ramona Brandes, sought a sentence of eight to nine years.

The confrontation began while Paroline was watering plants in the traffic circle near his home, where he set cones on the street to protect his watering hose.

Instead of driving around the cones, a group of girls got out of a car and two yelled at Paroline.

The girls said Paroline squirted them with water. A cellphone video showed him walking away from the girls and trying to resume watering the plants.

One of the girls summoned Brown, who was driven to the scene. He hit Paroline once and walked away.

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Brown was arrested by Seattle police after the NAACP, the Seattle Medium black community newspaper and Mount Zion Baptist Church brokered his surrender. Brown's mother, Brenda Battiste, of Sacramento, Calif., said he was scared and upset that the incident has been painted as racially motivated by many in the community.

Brown is black, and Paroline was white.

The killing outraged neighbors, who held a vigil and came in droves to a meeting with police.

Brown's crime qualified as "felony murder" because it happened during the commission of second-degree assault, a felony. The recommended sentence of nearly 11 ½ years was less than the standard range of 12 years, eight months to 21 years.

Prosecutors said their recommended sentence matched the high end of the sentencing range for manslaughter, a lesser charge. The case is akin to manslaughter because it involved a reckless — rather than deliberate — fatal act by Brown, they say.

But because of a new quirk in state law, felony murder is easier to prove. Had prosecutors charged Brown with manslaughter, they would have needed to prove Brown knew one punch could cause death, Satterberg explained.

Historically, about four to six cases a year in the county arise from a "one-punch homicide," he said.

The girls whose confrontation with Paroline preceded the attack were not charged with a crime. There is no "accessory" law in Washington state that is relevant in this case, said Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff. To be accomplices, the girls would have had to have assisted Brown in the assault.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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