Friday, January 17, 2020

Parole board now Joe Bryan's only hope after TX CCA's shameful rejection of his habeas writ

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' rejection of Joe Bryan's habeas corpus writ may rank as its most embarrassing moment since the 1990s when they refused to recognize DNA evidence exonerating Roy Criner. That episode spurred the Legislature to intervene in 2001 to create a vehicle for DNA exonerations. Will their arrogant, unexplained rejection of Bryan's claims earn a similar backlash?

Bryan's case rose to national prominence after two key events: 1) in 2018, the Texas Forensic Science Commission used it to identify flaws in the overstated way blood-spatter evidence is presented to juries, and 2) Pamela Colloff, an already legendary journalist who cut her teeth covering Texas innocence cases, authored a 22,000 word, two-part cover story for the New York Times Magazine elaborating problems with Bryan's case in overwhelming detail.*

Indeed, Bryan's false conviction has become an important case study used to demonstrate problems with past investigative methods. Reported the New York Times:
Lynn Robitaille Garcia, the general counsel of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, said Mr. Bryan’s case had a significant role in inspiring the state to develop a new licensing program for analysts doing crime scene reconstruction. 
“Everyone now recognizes that was unsupportable work, including the expert himself,” she said in an interview Thursday.
This is an example of the Government Always Wins faction on the CCA exercising raw power to assert their own opinion about the best outcome over the rule of law without fear of significant consequence.

Bryan was in Austin when his wife was murdered 120 miles away in Bosque County in 1985, and the flawed forensic testimony used to accuse him at trial has been recanted as junk science. Had they considered the details, it would have been as obvious to the CCA as it was to New York Times Magazine readers that, without that forensic evidence, Bryan could never have been convicted. So any honest evaluation of the evidence would require they grant him relief.

That left only one option for judges in the court's Government-Always-Wins faction if they wanted the case to stand: Reject Bryan's claim without explaining why. And that's exactly what they did.

“It’s disgusting, really,” said a forensic scientist quoted by the Times. “Judges are not in positions to be arbiters of what’s good science.”

Now that the Court of Criminal Appeals has once again shown its colors, the 80-year-old Bryan's only hope of relief is the Board of Pardons and Paroles. He is up for consideration in April, according to TDCJ's website. In 2019, they rejected his parole, despite an exemplary behavioral record in prison, based on the "nature of the offense." But with credible evidence available that Bryan never committed the offense in the first place, combined with his advancing age and the length of time already served, the parole board should finally release Joe Bryan in the interests of justice.

Bryan's attorneys have requested folks write letters to the parole board in support of his release, hoping to get as many letters as possible by the first week in February. On Facebook, they wrote:
We need the parole board flooded with letters of support on Joe's behalf. You can either e-mail one or send a written letter to the options below: 
Mailing Address: Place Law Office
109 S 7th St., Gatesville, TX 76528 
Address your letters to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and please send them by the first week of February!
Bryan's TDCJ number is 00419509; be sure to include it in your correspondence. Alternatively, you can send support letters directly to the parole board. It wouldn't hurt to let the Governor know your opinion, either.

Grits readers, please do this. Y'all know better than most Texans what an embarrassment our Court of Criminal Appeals has been over the years. Don't let their un-elaborated rejection be the final chapter in Joe Bryan's story.

* Grits interviewed Colloff about the case after her article came out.


James Didcock said...

Excellent piece--Colloff's examination of the fatally flawed investigation into Bryan was masterful.

Might want to look at the last sentence of your article.

Anonymous said...

“Everyone now recognizes that was unsupportable work, including the expert himself.”

Actually, everyone already knew that bloodstain analysis was garbage. From the 2009 National Academy of Science "Strengthening Forensic Science in the U.S.",

Although there is a professional society of bloodstain pattern analysts, the two organizations that have or recommend qualifications are the IAI and the Scientific Working Group on Bloodstain Pattern Analysis(SWGSTAIN). SWGSTAIN’s suggested requirements for practicing blood-stain pattern analysis are outwardly impressive, as are IAI’s 240 hours of course instruction. But the IAI has no educational requirements for certification in bloodstain pattern analysis.138 This emphasis on experience over scientific foundations seems misguided, given the importance of rigorous and objective hypothesis testing and the complex nature of fluid dynamics. In general, the opinions of bloodstain pattern analysts are more subjective than scientific. In addition, many bloodstain pattern analysis cases are prosecution driven or defense driven, with targeted requests that can lead to context bias...The uncertainties associated with bloodstain pattern analysis are enormous.

That was almost 11 years ago, folks. Some people just now are getting the memo.

Lee said...

Scott, We have a Court of Criminal Affirmations in this state. There is no appellate court.

Anonymous said...

Author John Grisham incorporated Joe Bryan's story into a recent novel.

This is not the first time I've read about Mr Bryan; each time I am horrified at the application of Justice in the lives of powerless citizens. From the wielders and abusers of power, like Perry, to Abbott, to the ex-Attorney of Palau; to the victims of Justice like Morton, like Joe Bryan, like my own family, the battle is heartrending and never ending.

The tale is overwhelming, the battle for true Justice goes on case by lonely case.

Steven Michael Seys said...

I completely understand Joe's plight. Part of the "evidence" used to convict me was a blood stain analysis that defied simple kinetics, let alone fluid dynamics. I have since learned that, but for my conviction, I was just as qualified to get IAI credentials in blood stain analysis as the officer who lied about my case. I only had to spend 32 1/2 years in Texas prison for a crime I didn't commit and now have to spend the rest of my life and then some on parole. But as you said, Scott, the real problem is not the science, there is no science in most forensics, it's the courts. And that problem won't go away until Texas voters decide that justice should be part of the law.