FRONT ROYAL — Tristen Brinklow had been 20 years old for four days before his murder in September 2019.
He had a big smile, loved cars and was always willing to help others, according to his mother Jennifer Brinklow.
She said she will never be able to see that smile, and a person involved isn’t going to jail long enough for his role.
George Good, 29, of Front Royal, was sentenced to a total of 35 years in prison on Friday, with all but 10 years suspended, and 10 years of probation for three separate crimes, one of them stemming from the death of Brinklow.
“I’m never going to hear him say, ‘Mom, I love you’ again,” Jennifer Brinklow said during the plea acceptance and sentencing at Warren County Circuit Court on Friday. “It makes no sense to me at all,” she said of the sentencing.
The sentence came by way of a plea deal that Good accepted. It was offered earlier this year in exchange for his testimony at the trial against Richard Crouch, 37, of Front Royal. Crouch pleaded guilty last month to a murder charge in Brinklow’s death.
Good was also charged with murder in the death of Brinklow initially, but he gave statements that Crouch had committed the murder and that he helped conceal the body afterward, Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell said during the hearing as part of the evidence in the case.
Tristen Brinklow was beaten and placed inside a motel refrigerator that was found near the Thunderbird Farms boat landing.
Crouch gave statements that Good committed the murder, Bell told the court. But Good led the prosecution to evidence that helped ultimately put the onus of the crime on Crouch, Bell explained to the court.
Because Crouch ended up pleading guilty to the charge, and Good put his statements about what had happened on the record in the case against Crouch, Bell told the court his office felt that he held up his end of the deal.
As a result, the murder charge was dropped. A single count of defiling a body and one count of concealing a body remained against him in the case. Good was sentenced to five years on the former, with it all suspended, and five years on the later, the maximum, with none suspended.
The other two crimes involved a drug deal with a confidential informant, and shouldn’t Good firing a gun during a separate assault incident that resulted in a bullet grazing the leg of a man. April Marie Wright, 43, of Stephen’s City previously pleaded guilty to her role in that assault.
Good was sentenced to five years in prison, with four years suspended in each of the five charges he faced relating to those incidents, adding to the remaining five years in prison that he will have to serve. His sentence in the assault case was consistent with the sentence of Wright, Bell told the court.
“There are things you can go to hell for, but not jail,” Bell said after the hearing, acknowledging there is no crime for not intervening in a crime, even in the case of murder. If there were, it would be tough to determine when a person should get involved, as well as tough to prove in court when that happened, he said.
“My deepest condolences to you and your family,” Judge William Sharp said to Jennifer Brinklow after the hearing, in which he accepted the deal. The decision to accept the deal was among the thoughts he’s had to make, he said, acknowledging that some people may not see the sentence as enough in the instance of a murder.
Sharp didn’t have to accept the deal, but the penalties went above the sentencing guidelines for the case, he explained. Those guidelines compare sentences of similar crimes to each other to determine whether people are punished consistently across the state, while taking into account certain factors in each case.
Accepting the deal, along with the deal Crouch was given, meant there was a conviction in the murder, Sharp also explained. If both cases had gone to trial, there would’ve been a possibility that both could have fended off conviction, he said.
Defense attorney Aaron Burgin, who represented Good, stated his client was persistent in finding the evidence in the case, that involved a search by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and law enforcement officers up and down a quarry.
“Nothing will ever bring her son back,” Burgin acknowledged during the hearing, adding he sympathized with Jennifer Brinklow but prayed that he never would have to empathize with her.
Toward the end of the hearing, Good turned to Jennifer Brinklow, saying, “I’m sorry that I didn’t do more,” while sniffling. He added “everything happened so fast” and that he, “didn’t think this would be the end result.”
“In my gut, it doesn’t sit with me,” Jennifer Brinklow said of the apology.
Several family members and friends of the Brinklow family protested outside the courthouse Friday, saying the deal was not enough. They shouted “Justice for Trey” and held signs with those words on them. Because of COVID-19 precautions in place, only members of the principals’ immediate family and news media are allowed in the courtrooms during hearings.
A brother of Good’s attended the hearing but declined to comment. Sabrina Kuser, 30, of Warren County, who is Good’s fiance, said she is happy that Good took the deal and that he was remorseful about what happened.
Crouch is scheduled to be sentenced in November for his role in the murder, as well as a domestic assault and drug distribution charges. He could be sentenced to around 30 years in prison for all three offenses.