On May 11, Malcolm Jabbar Bryant was exonerated for a murder he didn’t commit. Bryant spent 18 years in prison for the 1996 murder of Baltimore teen Toni Bullock. Only 23 years old when convicted of felony murder, second-degree murder, and carrying a deadly weapon on September 9, 1999, Bryant was sentenced to life plus 10 years for the murder.
“On behalf of the criminal justice system, I’d like to apologize to Mr. Malcolm Bryant and his family for the pain they’ve endured as a result of his wrongful conviction,” said States Attorney Marilyn Mosby at a news conference. “As prosecutors, our duty is to pursue justice equally and fairly under the law for victims, witnesses, accusers, and the accused.”
On the night of November 20, 1998, 16-year Toni Bullock and a friend were walking back from a store on Harford Road, when they were approached by a man who demanded money. When the girls told him, “no,” the man grabbed them by their arms and forced them over to a grassy field. Bullock’s friend was able to get away and run home to tell her family what happened.
Unfortunately, Bullock was not able to escape from the man and was stabbed three times, once in the arm, abdomen, and thigh. She was able to run away where she collapsed in the street before dying at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Bullock’s friend gave a description to detectives; a sketch was drawn up, and released to the media. There was only one other witness who stated that she saw Bullock struggling with a Black male but couldn’t give any other details.
Maintaining his innocence the entire time, Bryant exhausted all options including his right to appeal, starting several petitions for post-conviction relief, and having the University Of Baltimore’s Innocence Project look into the conviction. The re-investigation into Bryant’s conviction came through his numerous appeals and was spear headed by Conviction Integrity Unit Division Chief, Lauren Lipscomb, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Leedy, Chief of Investigations Kelvin Sewell, and Avon Mackel.
“I have two sons that I haven’t seen in almost 18 years. That’s my first priority.” said Bryant as he walked out of Prison a free man on May 11.
“They had to pinch me to let me know I wasn’t dreaming; that it was real.”
In 2011, the courts ordered the state to send nail clippings recovered from the victim for DNA testing. The DNA report revealed a partial male DNA on the clippings, and was discovered to be a rare identifier, that did not match Malcolm Bryant. Following this newfound information, the court ordered the state to send the victim’s clothing for DNA testing also. In 2015, the T-shirt of the victim was sent for DNA testing where the fatal wound was caused, revealed a full male DNA match to the partial sample found on the nail clipping which was inconsistent with Malcolm Bryant’s DNA. With DNA testing evolving with more advanced technology, the Conviction Integrity Unit began reinvestigating the case as of January 2016.
While re-investigating the team reinterviewed state’s witnesses, reviewed the trial transcripts, visited the crime scene, reviewed the DNA samples as well as interrogating the DNA experts, and questioned Bryant’s alibi witness. Coming to the conclusion that the strength of the DNA outweighed the identification solely due to the fact that it was an observation made 3 to 4 seconds during rainy, nighttime weather while under the stress of being attacked.
“The only plausible explanation we have for the male DNA’s presence under the victims fingernails and in the area of the fatal wound on the victim’s t-shirt is that the DNA is in fact the killers DNA and does not match Malcolm Bryant,” said Lauren Lipscomb, Conviction Integrity Unit Division Chief. “This in all probability means Mr. Bryant is not the murderer.”
“My heart breaks for the family of Toni Bullock.” said Mosby. “Please know that your daughter is not forgotten and my office will be working with Commissioner Kevin Davis and the Baltimore Police Department to do all that we can to investigate and prosecute the man who is truly responsible for Toni’s death.”
Neither Bryant nor his attorneys returned calls for comment before publication.