DNA evidence leads to dropped murder charge in 1998 slaying
BALTIMORE, United States — A man who was has been in prison for about 18 years after he was convicted in the 1998 stabbing death of a 16-year-old girl is expected to be released this week after new tests showed that DNA on the victim’s T-shirt did not match his.
Malcolm Jabbar Bryant, 42, was convicted of stabbing Toni Bullock on Nov. 20, 1998. Bryant was arrested a few weeks after Bullock was killed. Police said the girl was walking with her best friend when a man grabbed her, demanded money and pulled her into a vacant lot before stabbing her. Police had said robbery was the motive.
Toni’s friend, the only eyewitness, picked Bryant out of a photo lineup array that the Baltimore Police Department no longer uses.
At a news conference Wednesday, Marilyn Mosby said it was dark and rainy the night Bullock was killed, and the witness likely only had three or four seconds to glance at the attacker.
In light of the new DNA test, attorneys for Bryant asked for a new trial and, with no objection from prosecutors, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge granted the motion. When the judge did that, prosecutors dropped all charges.
Bryant walked silently out of the courtroom, still handcuffed and shackled, and visibly overcome by emotion.
His mother, Annie Bryant, shouted “Hallelujah!” from the gallery.
“Eighteen years,” she said outside of the courtroom. “It was a horror.”
Michelle Nethercott, an attorney with the University of Baltimore’s Innocence Project Clinic, has worked with Bryant for the past eight years. Nethercott said prosecutors were initially unwilling to support her quest for DNA testing, but have recently become cooperative.
During the hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney Lauren Lipscomb said the State’s Attorney’s Office had reopened the investigation earlier this year, and investigators had interviewed the initial eye witness and several of Bryant’s alibi witnesses, as well as reviewed the new DNA test results.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said she understood how painful the exoneration is for Bullock’s family.
“They must deal with the unsettling reality that the killer has not been brought to justice,” Mosby said. “We want them to know their daughter has not been forgotten.”
Mosby also apologized to Bryant and his family.
“My heart breaks for Malcolm Bryant, who was only 25 years old when he was sentenced,” she said. “Now 42, it’s hard to reconcile that we live in a world that would take 17 prime years away from an innocent man for a crime in which he had no part.”
Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Bullock’s slaying is now “an active case. We will take pursuit of this killer seriously.”
Mosby said Bryant was identified by the witness based on a photo array, and was charged the next day. Davis said Wednesday that the department has changed its technique for how photo arrays are arranged.
Instead of presenting six photographs together in a “six-pack,” a witness is given one photograph at a time. In addition, detectives in charge of administering the photos are not informed about the suspect in the array.
“Today, this is what our community expects from public safety,” Davis said. “Our community expects us to do the right thing when information that exists identifies people are responsible for crimes, or exonerates people for not being responsible for crimes.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.