Fourth District Judge Patrick Owen shook his head Wednesday as he described how a Greyhound driver had never pulled his bus over in 40 years on the road to handle an unruly passenger until he encountered James E. Brennan on New Year’s Day.
The Portland resident directed sexually charged comments toward a 17-year-old girl and then turned his attention to a 6-year-old Hispanic boy and his mother on the bus headed west toward Boise.
“This was a scary incident,” said Owen, who told Brennan, 45, he used the “meanest possible language” in yelling at the boy and others on the bus. “You were way off the sphere.”
Although Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Shawna Dunn recommended a five-year sentence, Owen said he wanted to give Brennan a chance to get out earlier than that if he follows the rules in prison. He sentenced him to two and a half to five years.
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“If you behave yourself in prison, you have an opportunity to shave some time off your sentence,” Owen said.
Brennan pleaded guilty in April to malicious harassment, which carries a maximum five-year sentence. Dunn agreed to drop a battery charge and three counts of disturbing the peace in exchange for the guilty plea.
Brennan, who has remained in the Ada County Jail since his Jan. 1 arrest, got on the bus at Twin Falls and began drinking beer, other passengers told police. Later, he became belligerent and threatened to kill the driver and three adult passengers. He told passengers he had a shotgun, a pistol and an ax, although police did not find any weapons when they took Brennan into custody after the driver stopped the bus at the Stage Stop exit at Milepost 71 east of Boise.
It was unclear how much beer Brennan consumed during the 107 miles he was on the bus between Twin Falls and the Stage Stop. However, police found eight empty cans on the bus.
After he pleaded guilty, Brennan refused to speak with a presentence investigator. Although defendants are not required to speak with the investigator, most do to seek a lenient sentence.
While speaking to Owen, Dunn would not repeat the words hurled by Brennan at the other passengers. She said the young boy was traumatized.
“The child was so frightened he was shaking,” Dunn said.
Brennan, Dunn said, has eight other convictions, including incidents in California, North Dakota, Illinois and Vermont. He has convictions for assault, terrorizing and battery against police, she said.
“He has no respect for society,” she told Owen. “The defendant is literally a hateful person. He is violent and erratic.”
Brennan claimed he did not recall his actions that day. Court proceedings relied on accounts from bus passengers, police officers and witnesses.
Owen told Brennan that he should seek help regarding what is apparently alcoholism.
“I think you have earned a significant intervention. I think you need to sober up,” Owen said.
Defense attorney David Lorello admitted that his client has a “disrespectful nature.” Still, he said Brennan told him that he was disgusted with his actions and where he is in life.
Brennan, who described the events on the bus as a “wretched night” in a January letter to the Idaho Statesman, told Owen on Wednesday that he displayed an antisocial attitude.
“He has to understand he needs to make better choices,” Lorello said.