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Brunswick Man Found Guilty in 2021 Brunswick Shooting Incident
State v. Bruce Christopher Stephens

May 26, 2023

District Attorney Keith Higgins announces that Bruce Christopher Stephens, 29, of Brunswick, was found guilty of Aggravated Assault, Possession of a Firearm during Commission of a Felony and Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, following a criminal jury trial that took place on January 12-13, 2023 in Glynn County Superior Court.

On May 26, 2023, Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen B. Kelley sentenced Stephens to serve 35 years in the Department of Corrections – 20 years for the Aggravated Assault, 10 years for the Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, and 5 years for the Possession of a Firearm during Commission of a Felony, all consecutive. The sentence rendered was the maximum for the offenses and was the recommendation made by Chief Assistant District Attorney Nigel Lush, who prosecuted the case at trial.

The health condition of the victim in this case, Justavian Simmons continues to deteriorate. Justavian remains in the hospital due to the severity of his injuries. The victim’s mother testified prior to sentencing and told the court that Justavian still requires a transplant, but is not healthy enough to be put on the active transplant list.

The evidence presented at trial showed that on the evening of July 29, 2021, a fight broke out between three females in the front yard of 3608 Burroughs Avenue, in Brunswick. The fight was over a man that one of the women was dating and another had previously been involved with. During the course of the altercation, the victim, Justavian Lavar Simmons, 23, who lived across the street, along with members of his family and other neighbors, stepped outside to watch. Justavian began to film the fight on his phone, but also tried to break it up. It was then that defendant, the brother of one of the participants in the fight, stepped outside and fired four shots from a 9mm handgun. As everyone fled, Justavian was hit in the stomach and suffered devastating injuries. He was airlifted to UF Shands and had to have his intestines removed. He has spent most of his days since that night in hospitals. His only hope is to receive an intestinal transplant. Because he is still in a hospital and unable to leave, Justavian did not testify; however, the video of the fight was shown at trial. While it did not show the defendant shooting, it does capture the sound of the gunshots and the phone falling to the ground as Justavian ran.

When interviewed by Glynn County police, who investigated the shooting, the defendant denied shooting a gun that night and said he arrived on scene after the shots were fired. During trial, however, the defendant testified that he in fact shot because his sister was being attacked. On cross examination, the defendant acknowledged that he only took two seconds to assess the situation before opening fire. He also testified that the first two shots were warning shots to break up the fight and that the second two were to get people off of his property. He agreed that after the first two shots, Justavian, who he wrongly believed was involved in the fight, was running away and must have crossed into the path of the bullets. The defendant, a convicted felon, could not explain how he came into possession of the handgun.

According to Chief Assistant District Attorney Nigel Lush, who prosecuted the case at trial, “The facts of this case are particularly tragic. Justavian was in the wrong place at the wrong time. While one can understand the defendant wanting to defend his sister, his actions were completely unreasonable and the force used excessive. You can’t bring a gun to a fist fight. The defendant took no time to assess the situation before opening fire. It wasn’t a matter of life and death for his sister. Our prayers are with Justavian, his child and the rest of his family that he can get the intestinal transplant he needs.”

The jury trial was presided over by Judge Stephen D. Kelley, and sentencing will be scheduled for a later date. Stephens faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison.

Members of the media with further questions may contact the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office at 912-554-7200.