Joe Bryan wasn’t killed in 1985, his wife Mickey was, found brutally murdered in their home on a night he was away at an educator’s conference.
And yet his life, any semblance of the life he’d known, was over as well, as he soon became a suspect, eventually convicted and sent away for life. All the pillars of his life–gone like the wind. His spouse, his career, his community standing, and of course his freedom, just memories for him. He’s old now, at least health-wise, he’ll likely die surrounded by the iron and concrete that prisoners call home.
Which would be poignant enough, even if he’d shot his wife. Yet reasonable doubt-the element which supposedly wins you an acquittal–wasn’t just present in this case. Doubt washed over it like flood waters from a hurricane.
Motive? No. Means and opportunity? Quite a stretch.
How was he convicted? Finally, “experts” spun their theories, and much rested on a flashlight found in the trunk of his car which supposedly showed signs of “blood spatter.” Although now no one is even sure it’s blood anymore, much less where it came from.
The New York Times recently published a long review of the case. It’s more than interesting for the serious mystery analyst. Below, a very brief excerpt from a long article on the case:
(The blood-spatter) testimony had been critical, because the state’s theory of the case posited an extraordinary sequence of events. Prosecutors asked the jury to believe that between 9:15 p.m. on Oct. 14, 1985, when the Bryans spoke by phone, and the following morning, when Mickey was found shot to death, Joe slipped out of his hotel in Austin; drove 120 miles to Clifton, at night, through heavy rain, even though he had an eye condition that made night driving difficult; shot his wife, with whom he had no history of conflict; drove 120 miles back to Austin; re-entered the hotel; and stole upstairs to his room — all in time to clean up and attend the conference’s morning session, and all without leaving behind a single eyewitness.
So much more dies with a murder victim– the spirits of family members, a sense of safety, community trust.
And the presumption of innocence, overturned only by consistent and compelling evidence, often dies as well as prosecutors feel pressure to close a case.
Was the principle of reasonable doubt shot to death in this case?