There is plenty of reasonable doubt in Joe Bryan’s case, but he has not been exonerated. Indeed, he was convicted twice by Texas courts. But the evidence against Joe is so dubious that even John Grisham is convinced that Joe is innocent.
“I strongly believe Joe is innocent,” Grisham wrote to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles after publishing a novel, “The Guardians” partly based on Joe’s case. “Please do not allow Joe to die in prison.”
In 2018, The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica published an investigation sharply questioning the evidence against Joe. That evidence is mainly bloodstain pattern analysis, and even the man who performed that analysis has admitted that it was badly done.
“My conclusions were wrong,” the former police detective admitted in a 2018 evidentiary hearing. “Some of the techniques and methodology were incorrect. Therefore, some of my testimony was not correct.”
He is not the only person to cast doubt on that analysis. That same year, the Texas Forensic Science Commission determined that the analysis was “not accurate or scientifically supported.”
In fact, the commission, which investigates complaints about the use of forensic evidence in criminal cases, developed a new licensing program for crime scene reconstruction analysts after reviewing Joe’s case.
“Mr. Bryan’s case shows that we need to be ever-vigilant to ensure the forensic science put in front of judges and juries is based on science and not conjecture,” said a spokesperson for the commission.
Doubtful forensic evidence and a strong alibi
Yet none of that has resulted in an exoneration for Joe, who is now 87 and in poor health. He has spent 33 years behind bars for the crime, which was the murder of his wife.
Joe even has a solid alibi. A high school principal at the time of the murder, he was 120 miles away at a conference when his wife was killed.
His legal team, including the Innocence Clinic at Texas Tech University School of Law, the Innocence Project of Texas and Joe’s longtime personal attorney, is pursuing an exoneration through the federal courts.
For now, however, Joe has been paroled — after his eighth request.
“We’re very grateful,” says Joe’s brother. “Bringing Joe home is the first step. The second step is making sure he is exonerated.”