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Judge in ex-Cowboy's intoxication manslaughter case warns attorneys about public comments

A Dallas judge told attorneys Friday to watch what they say about the intoxication manslaughter case against former Dallas Cowboys player Josh Brent, following a controversial interview the Dallas County district attorney did on local sports talk radio.

Brent is charged with intoxication manslaughter in a December car crash that killed Jerry Brown, a Cowboys practice squad player and former college teammate. Brent, who retired from football Thursday, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted; his trial is scheduled for September.

His case has received constant attention in the Dallas area, where potential jurors are hearing details that may not be shared at trial. Judge Robert Burns said some of what had been in the media was inaccurate, namely that authorities had proven Brent has had alcohol since his arrest, which would violate his bond.

Brent's attorney, George Milner, asked Burns to step in shortly after Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins was interviewed last month on KRLD-FM, "The Fan," during which he said Brent "still uses alcohol and illicit drugs."

"A person lost his life here," Watkins said on air. "Mr. Brent, based on the tests that we've seen, still uses alcohol and illicit drugs. And so for us to protect the public and send a message, we feel that we have a responsibility to make sure that he loses his freedom."

Brent has tested positive twice for marijuana since his arrest, but prosecutors have not shown proof in court that Brent has had alcohol. His ankle monitor for alcohol went off four times in February and March, but both sides agreed during a May court hearing that it was caused by the presence of alcohol in the air or near Brent.

"There is no evidence that the defendant drank any alcohol" based on that hearing, Burns said. "There's no evidence of that."

Burns said he would issue an order to "caution" both sides to be accurate in their public comments. He did not issue a gag order.

"If I did not impose some order restricting pretrial publicity, it might impair either side's ability to get a fair and impartial jury in this case," Burns said.

Milner said his request to Burns was mainly out of wanting to "preserve the integrity of the judicial system."

Heath Harris, the first assistant district attorney, declined to say why Watkins spoke about the case on sports talk radio when prosecutors have repeatedly said they weren't treating Brent differently due to his football career.

"To be honest with you guys, we're ready to go to trial," Harris said. "I don't like all this pretrial junk. We're ready to go to trial, to let the citizens of Dallas County decide how strict our intoxication laws are going to be."

Brent didn't comment after court.