Princeton resident David Bryant, who works on the grounds crew at Princeton Theological Seminary, was sent back to jail today after a judge ordered him back in custody.
Earlier this month an appeals court overturned the decision that led to Bryant’s release last year. Bryant, 57, served nearly four decades in prison for a crime he says he did not commit. He was convicted for the rape and murder of an 8-year-old Bronx girl and was freed from prison 14 months ago when a judge ruled that his public defender at the time had provided a poor defense.
The district attorney’s office in New York appealed the judge’s ruling, and on June 19, the Appellate Division overturned the decision. Prosecutors demanded today that Bronx Supreme Court Justice Seth Marvin reinstate Bryant’s conviction for the 1974 killing of Karen Smith.
Police found a semen stain on Smith’s clothes with type O blood; Bryant has type B blood. Bryant’s public defender never had his blood type tested and compared to the sample. Judge Marvin ruled last year that the lawyer’s failure to have Bryant’s blood type determined or consult with a serologist was the result of neglect and ignorance. But the Appellate Court ruled that Bryant received effective assistance of counsel under state and federal constitutional standards.
“Although there was a lack of physical evidence connecting defendant to the crime, his guilt was established on the basis of his voluntary statements to the police, the testimony of several witnesses placing him near the scene of the crime, and evidence indicating consciousness of guilt,” reads the court’s ruling. “Since defendant’s 80-year-old trial counsel testified that he had no memory of representing defendant at his trial in 1976, his inability to recall his reasons for not consulting a serologist or having defendant’s blood type tested did not establish that such actions were not rooted in strategic considerations.”
Back in 1974, Bryant , then 18, was arrested within a day after the body of Smith was found in the stairwell of a housing project. She had been beaten, raped, sodomized, and stabbed 11 times. Bryant said a confession was coerced from him by police after 12 hours of interrogation that included physical abuse. He was convicted and spent the next 38 years in Marcy prison in upstate New York.
He tried in vain to find someone to champion his cause, but then he learned about Centurion Ministries in 2002 and wrote the non-profit a letter. Centurion’s sole mission is to free the innocent from prison based on factual evidence. Centurion worked on the case and dug up the fact that Bryant’s blood type did not match the semen sample.
Prosecutors have claimed that the victim’s blood type was O and perhaps the eight-year-old’s vaginal secretions could have mixed with the semen, masking the blood type — a highly unlikely scenario. The semen sample can’t be tested for DNA, because the state allegedly is unable to locate the sample. All that remains is court testimony and an autopsy report that outlined the evidence related to the blood testing.
Last week Bryant’s lawyer, Paul Casteleiro, filed an application to appeal the latest ruling. In the meantime, Bryant will have to wait for the hearing from prison. Bryant was sentenced to 25 years to life. Some have questioned why he was never paroled. Bryant went before a parole board seven times, and each time he was rejected. “A prisoner has to admit guilt and show remorse to be considered for parole,” Bryant told Planet Princeton yesterday. “I’m not going to admit to something I did not do.”