Joe Bryan has not been exonerated, but there is good reason to believe he was wrongfully convicted of the 1985 murder of his wife, Mickey. Bryan was convicted twice despite having been at a conference 120 miles away at the time of the murder. He has served 33 years in prison.
The main evidence against Bryan was an analysis of bloodstain patterns — a forensic technique that many experts seriously question. Nevertheless, bloodstain pattern analysis continues to be relied upon in Bryan’s case and in others throughout the criminal justice system.
Well-documented issues with the evidence
In Bryan’s case, the bloodstain pattern analysis is even more dubious than usual. In 2018, Bryan’s attorneys presented to the court a statement by the retired police detective who performed the original analysis:
“My conclusions were wrong,” he wrote. “Some of the techniques and methodology were incorrect. Therefore, some of my testimony was not correct.”
Moreover, the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which investigates complaints about forensic testimony in criminal cases, specifically addressed Bryan’s case. It stated that the bloodstain pattern analysis performed in Bryan’s case was “not accurate or scientifically supported.”
In fact, the commission developed a new licensing program for crime scene reconstruction analysts based on the problems in Bryan’s case.
“Mr. Bryan’s case shows that we need to be ever-vigilant to ensure the forensic science put in front of judges and juries is based on science and not conjecture,” said the commission’s general counsel.
Unfortunately, the obvious and well-documented problems with the evidence in Bryan’s case did not lead the courts to overturn the conviction. The Innocence Clinic at Texas Tech University School of Law, the Innocence Project of Texas and Bryan’s long-term attorney will be filing federal appeals in the hope of proving Bryan’s innocence.
Even though Bryan has not been exonerated, there is good news. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which had denied him parole seven times in the past, finally agreed to let him go.
He enters a world transformed by smart phones and technology. He also enters a world transformed by COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders that will make it challenging for Bryan to reunite with his loved ones.
“We’re very grateful,” Bryan’s brother told ProPublica, which reported on Bryan’s case with the New York Times Magazine in 2018. “Bringing Joe home is the first step. The second step is making sure he is exonerated.”