The NY Times article follows:
By: Marc Santora Published: April 11, 2013
Karen Smith was 8 when she was raped, beaten, stabbed and left for dead in the stairwell of a Bronx apartment house in 1975. Even in a city that was rife with crime and inured to violence, it was a horrific scene — the body of the little girl was found wearing only socks and underwear, a Nestle’s candy bar by her side and blood spattered four feet high on the wall.
Within a day, the police announced that they had apprehended a suspect, an 18-year-old neighbor named David Bryant who had a previous history of trouble with the law, including two arrests for sexual misconduct.
Mr. Bryant confessed to the murder, was convicted, and the case was largely forgotten.
But on Thursday, nearly 40 years later, a Bronx judge vacated the conviction and ordered Mr. Bryant released after finding that his lawyer at the time had provided a poor defense.
Although Mr. Bryant has maintained his innocence over the years and said his confession was coerced, the ruling on Thursday by Justice Seth L. Marvin of State Supreme Court did not reach any conclusion about his guilt.
Instead, the ruling focused on whether Mr. Bryant’s lawyer had failed to present evidence that could have raised a reasonable doubt about Mr. Bryant’s guilt. The judge was asked to consider whether the failure by Mr. Bryant’s lawyer to consult with an expert on blood and semen testing was a critical mistake.
“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.
Much of the ruling focused on the forensic tools available at the time of Mr. Bryant’s trial, specifically serology, which is the study of blood serum.
Mr. Bryant’s lawyer during his original trial, Paul I. Auerbach, was called to testify in the hearing and said he could not recall details from the case.
“His failure to have the defendant’s blood type determined or consult with a serologist was not part of a legitimate strategy; it was the result of neglect and ignorance,” Justice Marvin said.
Mr. Auerbach, 80, now lives in Florida and practices law involving older people.
“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.”
Mr. Bryant was ordered released immediately and the district attorney must decide whether to appeal, retry him or dismiss the case.
Steven Reed, a spokesman for the Bronx district attorney’s office, said no decision had been made on whether the judge’s ruling would be appealed. “However, we will be filing a notice of intent to appeal in order to preserve the right to do so,” he said.
Paul Casteleiro, the lawyer who has been seeking to have Mr. Bryant’s conviction overturned, said that his client had been struggling for years to prove his innocence and that the court’s decision went a long way to vindicating him.
Mr. Casteleiro noted other problems with the conviction, saying the confession was coerced after 12 hours of interrogation that included physical abuse. He said the previous sexual misconduct charges against Mr. Bryant were the result of the father of Mr. Bryant’s girlfriend disapproving of their relationship and calling the police on him.
When Mr. Casteleiro first started representing Mr. Bryant in 2008, appeals to have the conviction overturned based on how the confession was obtained had failed. He decided to see if there was any DNA evidence that could be found that might help his client. But much of the physical evidence from the original trial could not be found. Still, there was testimony and an autopsy report that outlined the evidence related to blood testing.
Mr. Bryant has type-B blood and no type-B blood was recovered from the crime scene or in the autopsy, Mr. Casteleiro said. In effect, his lawyer argued, there was no physical evidence tying his client to the crime.
Mr. Casteleiro said Mr. Bryant was released from custody shortly after 4:30 p.m.