A man who had been behind bars for nearly four decades after being convicted in the 1975 death of an 8-year-old was set free after a Bronx judge ruled that his trial attorney provided a poor defense.
David Bryant was released Thursday when Judge Seth Marvin of the State Supreme Court decided that Bryant’s attorney’s failure to consult with a semen and blood testing expert robbed him of a fair trial. Although Bryant initially confessed to killing Karen Smith (who was also raped and beaten), he has since said that the confession was coerced and claimed that he was innocent of the crime. Bryant was 18 at the time and had already been arrested twice for sexual misconduct.
Although Marvin’s ruling set Bryant free, it did not exonerate him of the crime. Instead, the judge’s ruling centered around the fact that Bryant’s lawyer failed to present evidence that could have raised a reasonable doubt about the guilt of his client, The New York Times reports.
“This error falls within the category of rare cases where a single error in an otherwise competent defense is so egregious and prejudicial that it deprived defendant of a fair trial,” Justice Marvin wrote about Bryant’s lawyer not consulting with a blood and semen expert.
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The attorney in question, Paul Auerbach, 80, now lives in Florida and practices law involving older people. He couldn’t recall the specifics of Bryant’s case when asked to testify.
“I was handling 75 criminal cases a year,” he said. “But I think the judge was unfair in his characterization in what I did. I would like to justify the way I handled the case and say he is wrong, but honestly, I can’t recall the case.”
The district attorney now has the choice to appeal, retry or dismiss the case. The decision has not been made yet but the Bronx DA’s office will keep its options open. “We will be filing a notice of intent to appeal in order to preserve the right to do so,” said Steven Reed, a spokesman for the office.