April 25, 2006 – A former V.I. assistant attorney general who investigated the circumstances surrounding the 1996 shooting death of Adelbert "Pell" Bryan says neither then V.I. Attorney General Julio Brady nor Police commissioner at the time, Ramon Davila, can be legally accused of any wrongdoing.
Former V.I. Assistant Attorney General Douglas Sprotte said in a phone interview Tuesday that V.I. law gave Davila the power, in any way he saw fit, to give then Sen. Adelbert Bryan permission to carry a firearm. Sprotte, currently assistant state attorney and managing prosecutor of economic/organized crime in Florida's 20th judicial district, said there was no clear-cut process at the time.
"If Davila wanted to write on a napkin, 'I give you the power to carry a gun,' there was nothing to stop it in V.I. law at that time," Sprotte said Tuesday.
The firearm in question was used by the senator to kill his son in March of 1996.
After initially being charged with involuntary manslaughter, all charges against Bryan were later dropped by Brady – an issue that raised controversy during Brady's recent Senate confirmation hearings.
The question of the licensing of the gun and the dropping of the charges against Bryan were used by Sen. Ronald Russell, chairman of the Rules Committee, to question Brady's nomination to the Superior Court.
Here's how Sprotte – who was originally charged with investigating the actions of John Davis II, the prosecuting attorney in the Bryan case who resigned shortly after the case against Bryan was dropped – says the whole matter of the gun went down.
According to Sprotte, Bryan was having problems with his son, who had threatened to kill all the animals on his father's farm, cut down dozens of trees and shoot his father in the head. The senator filed two police reports and then sent a letter to Davila asking for a license to carry a .38 caliber handgun.
Somehow the letter — which Bryan said he gave to Cpl. Dino Herbert to deliver to Davila, and which Davila said he signed — never made it to the Firearms Bureau, Sprotte said Tuesday, adding his information was based on what he was told by people he interviewed at the time.
In a 1997 report, authored by Sprotte and circulated to senators last week during the hearings, Sprotte also reported that Davila signed the letter, but that it was never given back to Bryan.
However, Herbert, who was Davila's driver back then, said he heard the commissioner tell Bryan that he had "taken care of it."
Therefore, Sprotte said Tuesday, Bryan had every reason to believe he was carrying the gun lawfully.
But that is only part of the saga that Russell pulled out of the annals of history in an attempt to foil Brady's nomination.
Russell criticized Brady for dropping the initial involuntary manslaughter charge against Bryan.
The charge, according to Sprotte, was based completely upon the evidence submitted from the first autopsy on Bryan's son.
"There were three bullet holes" in Bryan's son, Sprotte said Tuesday, which left investigators believing he had been shot three times – once in the right shoulder, once in the back through to the left shoulder and once in the neck. However, Sprotte said a second autopsy indicated there were only two shots fired.
When Brady made the decision to charge Sen. Bryan with involuntary manslaughter it was based on his belief, Sprotte said, that Bryan's son had been shot in the back while fleeing. "He based his decision," Sprotte's report said, "upon the appearance that Pell was running away from the senator when the final shot was fired."
A later autopsy report done by another pathologist, Dr. John Smialek, hired by Bryan defense attorney Joel Holt, concluded that Bryan's son had his left arm raised, preparing to strike his father with a machete when the second bullet entered his shoulder, passed through and exited his neck.
That was the bullet that killed him. Sprotte said Tuesday, "I reviewed the forensics report personally."
It was also reviewed by V.I. Medical Examiner Francisco Landron, who, Sprotte said in his report, agreed with Smialek's findings. According to Sprotte, Landron said Smialek's appraisal of Pell's aggressive body position was "probably correct."
Sprotte said Tuesday, "It was a perfectly valid hypothesis our experts said. Given a defense we couldn't beat, we had to back off."
That's where Sprotte says Davis came into the mix. Davis, the prosecutor on the case, didn't want to back off, Sprotte says. "John wanted to become attorney general, and this was his ticket."
Russell also used information that he said Davis gave him about a "cover up" to cast doubt on Brady's nomination.
But Brady and Sprotte, who worked for Brady at the time he investigated Davis and wrote his report, say there was no cover up.
On Tuesday, Sprotte said, "There were just two equally plausible explanations for the events based upon the physical evidence – one which tended to exonerate the senator," Sprotte said. "In criminal law a tie goes to the defendant. Our burden would have been guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." he said. "The second autopsy report clearly presented reasonable doubt."
During his confirmation hearing Brady said, "I regret the decision I made, because it was based on the wrong evidence – evidence which caused a lot of grief and distress to a family. But the facts show that Adelbert Bryan committed no crime – that he only acted in self-defense." Sprotte disagreed: "The initial determination made by the attorney general was appropriate based upon the facts presented to him, but when presented with the additional forensics report he did the only responsible thing he could do. He terminated the prosecution."
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