Thursday, January 16, 2020

Update on Byron K. Brown

In his letter of January 8, 2020. Byron shared some positive news. He has enrolled in the Spring 2020 semester in Cornell's prison education program. Byron will be studying Spanish, Social Psychology, and Social Movements. He is particularly excited about his upcoming law classes both at Cornell and through Cayuga Community College's respective prison programs.

Like many inmates, Byron has diligently advocated on his own behalf, filing complaints in the Albany Suporeme Court, the NY State Court of Claims, as well as U.S. District Court. These filings relate to Byron's claim of intentional wrongful confinement related to his mistreatment in the prison system. In Byron's words, "I am (handling) all three of these motions by myself...."I can't wait until two of the state cases are over with so I can completely focus on my criminal appeals."

Byron has also been focusing on his spiritual development. "I still go to the Masjid (mosque) 5 of 6 times out of the week for classes and congregational prayers, because it reminds me how little I know religiously and how much more there is to learn. Ramadahn will start in the next 90 days. I was in the box (Special Housing Unit) last year for Ramadan so I can't wait until the fasting starts."

Monday, December 30, 2019

Bruce Bryant from Lisa Armstrong on Vimeo.

Bruce and I have been corresponding for many months. He is an author, a playwright, and also involved with Carnegie Hall's "Musical Connections" program, "an initiative to provide incarcerated men (at Sing Sing) with access to workshops too elevate their musical composition and performance skills." (The Link, Fall/Winter 2019).

Bruce Bryant

While watching the news in his cell in Great Meadow Correctional Facility, Bruce Bryant was overcome by the sight of a grieving mother, whose 10-year-old daughter had been killed by a stray bullet.
It was 2008. Bryant, who is serving a 37 ½ to life sentence for murder, felt a weight on his chest. The crime was eerily similar to his own. And he saw an opportunity to start making amends.

Bryant, 50, was convicted of the murder of 11-year-old Travis Lilley in June 1996. Bryant maintains he never fired a weapon that day in 1993. But he recognizes that his lifestyle as a young person — he started dealing drugs when he was 14 — contributed to an environment in which a stray bullet could take a young life. And for that reason, he’s spent most of his 25 years in prison working to help young people.

He convinced a prison superintendent to let him create an option for prisoners to donate to a gun buyback program in Albany. In two weeks, Bryant had raised $322.
“You don’t have to pick up a gun and shoot a person to be responsible for a life,” he says.
With at least 12 more years on his sentence, Bryant is now asking the governor for early release, with the hope that he can continue his work outside of prison walls.
“On my watch, I don’t want to ever see another young person die,” he says.

On October 30th, 1993, a 23-year-old Bryant was in Jamaica, Queens, when he ran into fellow drug dealer Michael Sterling. As the men were catching up, Sterling saw a man across the street who had robbed him the day before.
The man and his friends started shooting at Sterling, Bryant says. Sterling returned fire. That’s when Bryant says he ran.
He says he didn’t see the stray bullets shatter the window of the beauty salon across the street. He didn’t see Travis Lilley or Lilley’s uncle as he held the boy’s lifeless body and sobbed, sitting on shards of glass.
But in 1996, Bryant was found guilty of murder. Justice Robert McGann told him at his sentencing, “I hope you never have access to decent, innocent people again.”

In prison, he went from being angry to wanting to help others. With help from nonprofit Children of Promise, Bryant published a journal for children with incarcerated parents. He started a program called “Mentoring Beyond The Walls,” which connected formerly incarcerated youth with currently incarcerated men.
Hany Massoud, cofounder of Justice by the Pen, an organization that helps youth engage with social justice issues, has partnered with Bryant on several projects.
“He would be running several nonprofit organizations if he was out of prison right now,” Massoud says.
“Saying sorry is not good enough,” says Bryant, who has earned an Associate’s and a Bachelor’s degree behind bars. “You got to say I’m sorry in the way that you live. I would hope that my lifestyle would reflect my deepest apologies.”
By Rachel Rippetoe and Sean Sanders

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Bruce Bryant/Closeness Is Not Measured By Distance/ Children of Promise/The Word Is Love

Incarceration can lock up the body, but not the soul, not the spirit. 

Over the past few months, The Opus 30 Mission has been advocating on behalf of Mr. Bruce Bryant. Bruce is an inmate at Sing Sing in Ossining, NY, having been wrongfully convicted in 1996, and serving a sentence of 37 years to life. 

Bruce Bryant with his parents

Despite being incarcerated, Bruce has reached out beyond the confines of the prison walls to promote healing, specifically for children of incarcerated parents. In 2015, Bruce co-authored “Closeness Is Not Measured By Distance”a journal for children whose parents are incarcerated. 

Additionally, Bruce has collaborated with Children of Promise, an organization founded by Ms. Sharon Content which provides services, programs and guidance to children of incarcerated parents. According to COP, there are 2,700,000 children in the United States whose parents are incarcerated. 

Bruce is also a co-producer of the film The Word Is Love, whose director and producer Marika Turano describes “Closeness Is Not Measured by Distance” as being “…about love and how it empowers each and every one of us.”

Currently, we are seeking legal representation for Bruce, so that his wrongful conviction may be overturned. In the meantime, I am inspired by his ministry to the many children who are facing the world without their parents, and his decision to become intentional about making a real difference. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Happy Anniversary, Shane Watson

One year ago today, October 9, Shane walked out of prison after serving 25 years for a crime he did not commit. We are still working towards Shane's full exoneration in the court system, with the assistance of The Exoneration Initiative. 

Shane continues to do well, working and thriving with his family.

Shane celebrating son Zion's 10th birthday..

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Byron K. Brown's Story

Byron K. Brown, 48, is incarcerated at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, NY, serving a life sentence for 1st degree murder. Byron has been incarcerated since 1998, and claims that the shooting was accidental. Here is his story in his own words, sent to me in June of this year.

Dear Readers,

Hello, my name is Byron K. Brown. I am 48 years old, born in Little Rock, Arkansas. I had moved to Long Island, NY in 1994, seeking better opportunities in the entertainment business. Like most troubled youths I came from a broken family structure. I grew up in an impoverished community, influenced by gang culture and addicted to alcohol and drugs. I was uneducated and did not make the best decisions in life, which ultimately resulted in my being convicted of several criminal offenses before the tender age of 25. Please allow me to explain an unfortunate tragedy that had occurred in my life.


On April 4, 1997, at approximately 4 AM, Douglas Ury, a driver for Orange and White Taxi of Huntington Station delivered Byron Brown, a bicycle and a four-foot-long cardboard box to 319 44th Street, Copiague, NY. Brown intended to stay there that night with his girlfriend, Tina Robinson. Out in the street he encountered Tina’s aunt, Lisa Cornelius, who had been partying. Brown told Cornelius that the box contained either a rifle or shotgun.

On Saturday night, April 5, Deroy Collins and Charles Arnott sat side by side dispatching taxi cabs for Via Taxi in Copiague, NY. At approximately 8:45 PM, Collins took a phone call requesting a pickup at Drexel Heritage, a furniture store on Route 110, a.k.a. Broadhollow Road in Farmingdale, NY. Collins dispatched driver Thomas White to make the pickup. A short time later, both Collins and Arnott heard White call on the radio and say “Deroy, I am dying.” He went on to say he was shot and was on 42nd. Street in Copiague.

Meanwhile, at approximately 9:30 PM, Carmine Rosales was awakened by a loud noise from the front of her house at 222 41st. Street, Copiague. She saw a black man, approximately five foot six inches tall, wearing a black jacket and red sweatshirt get out of the driver’s side rear door of a taxi cab and run toward Prospect Street. Her chain link fence and part of the neighbor’s was knocked down by the taxi.

Police Officer Brian Karp arrived at the scene at 9:25 PM and observed a White Via taxi crashed into a chain link fence with the rear driver’s side door open. Behind the wheel of the cab, Thomas White, a heavy-set black male, was bleeding profusely. Officer Karp also noticed a box with a rifle in the back seat. Karp asked White if he had been shot. White said “He robbed me. I am dying, please help me, man.” When asked if he knew who robbed him, White said “No, please help me. Get me out of this car.” White was then silent. White died from loss of blood which was the result of damage caused by a bullet wound.

About this time, James Van Dorn, a NY City cop who resided near the intersection of Prospect and 41st. Street was out in the street working on his car. He looked down and noticed a black leather jacket between his rear tire and the curb. Van Dorn picked up the jacket, looked for ID, and threw it back on the ground. He noticed a large white tag which read size 4X. Suddenly, a dark-skinned black male, about five foot five with short hair and black baggy pants or jeans and a long sleeve red shirt approached Van Dorn and said, “That’s my jacket.” Van Dorn said “OK” and the guy put the jacket on and walked away. Earlier, Van Dorn had noticed flashing police lights at the end of the street. He decided to walk down and investigate. He eventually told one of the officers at the scene what had happened.

At the trial of Byron Brown, Van Dorn identified Byron Brown as the person he saw that night. He also identified the black leather jacket.

As part of the police investigation of the incident, PO Ronald Williams positioned his police car at the intersection of 41st. Street and New Highway in Copiague, in order to establish a perimeter around the scene. At approximately 10:00 PM, Officer Williams stopped a black male. He described this black male as about twenty years old, five foot five, dark complexion wearing a black jacket, black pants and black shirt. This individual said he was coming from Pathmark (a grocery store) and was on his way to his girlfriend’s house. Williams let him go because he didn’t think there was cause to hold him.

Byron Brown’s  girlfriend Tina Robinson testified at trial that on Saturday, April 5th, she told Byron Brown that her aunt wanted him to leave. When he left that evening, he was wearing green pants, green shirt, and a black leather jacket. Robinson identified the black leather jacket that was in evidence. That night between 9:00 and 10:30 PM, Brown called her from Pathmark and said he wanted to come back and talk. When he got there, he told Tina that he’d been stopped by a cop at New Highway because of a shooting. That night Tina let Byron sleep in a van in the driveway.

Meanwhile, the police continued their investigation. The crime scene was videotaped and the taxi cab as well as the cardboard box and rifle (which turned out to be a Marlin 30.30) were transported to the crime lab garage.

Four latent fingerprints were lifted from the cardboard box, and at trial Brown conceded that the fingerprints were his. A spent bullet was recovered from inside the driver’s side door. The police determined that the bullet had been fired from that rifle found in the taxi.

Det. Charles Kosciuk, a crime scene analyst and reconstructionist, testified at the trial that the taxi had struck a tree, taken down a mailbox, and ten to fifteen feet of chain link fence. There were no skid marks, and in his opinion the taxi was going slightly less than thirty miles per hour when it crashed.

Once Byron Brown’s prints were identified as being on the cardboard box which contained the rifle, the Homicide Squad began looking for him. At 11:30 PM, April 7th, PO Kevin Murphy and his partner stopped an automobile in Bay Shore. They arrested one of the passengers for marijuana possession. This passenger had a phone calling card in his pocket which identified him as Byron Brown. At the 3rd Precinct, Murphy determined that Homicide wanted to talk to Mr. Brown.

Det. Gerald McAlvin picked up Brown shortly after midnight on April 8th and transported him to the Homicide Squad in Yaphank. At 12:45 AM, defendant Brown signed a Miranda card waiving his rights, and submitted to questioning.

After giving several false versions of the incident that had occurred on Saturday night, Brown admitted that he was trying to rob the cab driver when he shot him. Brown told Det. McAlvin that he had intended to walk back to Academy Place in Huntington Station, where he was staying with Doris Hartos, his ex-girlfriend, but he changed his mind and decided to rob a cab driver. He gave the driver a fictitious address near his girlfriend Tina’s house, because Brown intended to go there after the robbery. Brown tapped the driver on the arm with the rifle barrel and announced a robbery as they were driving down the street. 

When the driver began to turn around, Brown shot the driver in the upper torso. Brown said the car was moving when he fired the shot, and then the car crashed into someone’s yard. When he heard a lady yelling, Brown panicked and ran away without getting any money. He acknowledged dropping his jacket and encountering Van Dorn when he went back to retrieve it. Brown then went to Pathmark. Brown admitted being stopped by a police officer on New Highway on his way from Pathmark to Tina Robinson’s house.

Defendant Brown then gave a written confession, made a sketch of the robbery and identified crime scene photos.

Brown told Det. McAlvin that on the night of the shooting he was wearing a Barry Force satin jacket, dark-colored shirt, black pull-up boots and black Hilfiger jeans. Brown said that the clothes were in a green Eddie Bauer duffle bag at Doris Hartos’ house. Brown signed a permission to search form. Det. McAlvin later recovered the duffle bag which contained a black leather jacket. The jacket was identified by Van Dorn as well as other witnesses at the trial.

At 7:10 AM, Brown was returned to the 3rd Precinct in order to be taken to court for arraignment. At this point, Brown was allowed to make a phone call and he called Tina Robinson. Det. McAlvin overheard Brown tell Robinson, in sum and substance, that he did what he did and could not take it back and that he was under arrest for murder.

When Byron Brown was arrested, he had in his pocket a personal address book which had the number 800-267-5334 written on the inside cover. At trial, Diana Glaser, an investigator for Bell Atlantic testified that the phone number 800-267-5334 was a pre-paid phone card issued by I.C.G. Trucker Phone Company. Phone number 516-531-8203 is a Bell Atlantic public telephone at 125 Broad Hollow Road in Melville, NY, which are the phones just in front and to the north of Drexel Heritage. The pre-paid calling card was used from that phone booth three times between 9:00 and 9:10 PM on April 5, 1997.

VERDICT: Count 1, Murder 1, Guilty
Appellant’s Sentence: Life Without Parole

 Byron K. Brown, 2014
Graduation photo from Cornell Prison Education Program
(Associate's Degree)

Friday, September 6, 2019

Happy Birthday, Charles

Today is the 53rd birthday of Charles L. Wynn, Sr. 
We are advocating for Charles, who has been wrongfully imprisoned since 2004.
Last night I spoke with attorney David Keenan, an associate of attorney Joel Rudin. Mr. Keenan offered to examine the case files and other documents from Charles' trial. We are hopeful that the compelling evidence of Charles' innocence will urge Mr. Keenan to take the case.
You can read Charle's letter by clicking HERE.

Update on Byron K. Brown

In his letter of January 8, 2020. Byron shared some positive news. He has enrolled in the Spring 2020 semester in Cornell's prison educ...