David Bryant spent almost four decades in prison for a crime he did not commit until a New York judge ordered his release. But then more than a year later the district attorney’s office appealed the decision and won, and Bryant, who had built a life for himself in Princeton after his release, was sent back to prison, where he has been waiting for his case to be overturned again for the last three years.
Centurion, the Princeton-based group that works to free innocent people from prison, worked on Bryant’s original case and has been fighting for his freedom again ever since he was sent back to prison. Centurion found new evidence to prove Bryant did not rape and murder an 8-year-old Bronx girl in 1974.
Today, U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet of the Southern District of New York ordered Bryant’s release within 45 days unless the Bronx District Attorney calls for a new trial.
The judge found that the new serological evidence produced by Centurion indicated that a semen sample recovered from the victim could not have been Bryant’s semen. The judge also found that the defense attorney’s failures to investigate and discover the evidence likely affected the outcome of the original trial. “It is more probable than not that reasonable, properly instructed jurors would not believe him to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” Sweet said.
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 in July of 2014. “I’m not going to admit to something I did not do.”
The judge’s decision is the second victory in a week for Centurion. On Friday, client Michael Shannon was freed from the Louisiana State Prison in Angola. He was serving for the past six and a half years a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a murder he did not commit.
A judge granted Shannon a new trial, finding that his lawyer at trial was incompetent. Shannon was convicted of shooting and killing a man in broad daylight based a lone witness’s identification of his photograph six months after the shooting. Centurion was able to find and present five eyewitnesses to the daytime shooting, none of whom the trial attorney interviewed or called to testify at trial, who all described the shooter as being 6’0” to 6’3” tall. Shannon is 5’6” tall.
The State of Louisiana is appealing the judge’s decision granting Shannon a new trial.