Shortly before noon on August 3, 2006, 41-year-old Lori Cline was in her car with her three children. She was waiting to pick up a prescription in the drive-through lane of a pharmacy in Bradenton, Florida, when a man came up to the open rear passenger window, reached in and pressed handgun to the back of the head of Cline’s 14-year-old son and said, “Be quiet, give me your pocketbook.”
As Cline’s 11-year-old daughter and her 10-year-old friend watched in terror, Cline, a former Manatee County reserve deputy and wife of a Manatee County deputy, asked the man to lower the gun and handed him her wallet containing $10. The man then fled on foot.
Cline asked a pharmacy employee to call 911 and took her children inside the store. They described the robber as a light-skinned black man with facial acne, a dark scarf covering dreadlocks, a Hawaiian shirt, white pants and white shoes.
Less than 15 minutes later, police saw an SUV drive past the pharmacy and the driver ducked his head as if to hide his face. Police attempted to halt the vehicle, but it sped away. A police helicopter tracked the vehicle to a parking lot nearby where the driver fled on foot into a residence. Not long after, 20-year-old Andre Bryant surrendered and was taken into custody. He denied involvement in the robbery and said he fled because he had an outstanding warrant for a parole violation based on a possession of narcotics conviction (He had failed to give his probation officer an updated address).
Police obtained a search warrant for the vehicle and the residence. Nothing was found in the vehicle. In the residence, police found a handgun (which was inoperative), and 250 grams of cocaine.
Police said Cline and the three children identified Bryant in photographic lineups and he was charged with armed robbery. At the time of his arrest, Bryant had no facial acne, was dark-skinned and was wearing black shorts and black shoes. He also was in possession of more than $5,000 in cash. The Hawaiian shirt and the scarf were never found.
In March 2007, Bryant went to trial in Manatee County Circuit Court. Cline and the three children testified and all identified him as the robber. Cline said the handgun found in the search looked like the one the gunman held to her son’s head. A surveillance video appeared to show the robber briefly entering the store and leaving short before the robbery occurred, but it was of poor quality and did not clearly identify or exclude Bryant.
The prosecution presented evidence that right after the crime, a police dog had tracked a scent, ostensibly that of the robber, and followed it three blocks north of the pharmacy before losing the scent. The dog’s handler said that suggested the robber had gotten into a vehicle.
On March 6, 2007, the jury convicted Bryant of armed robbery. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
In September 2014, a reporter for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune newspaper published a lengthy article that suggested that Bryant was innocent.
The newspaper reported that Cline initially checked “none” when shown the photographic array with Bryant’s photograph and that items from Cline’s wallet were found about 7:30 a.m. the day after the robbery in a location considerably outside the path that Bryant took in his SUV, and the police—who had tracked the SUV from the air—never saw anything thrown from the vehicle.
The newspaper also reported that in February 2007, about five months after the robbery, two men were burglarizing a home in Samoset, near Bradenton, when the homeowner, Daniel Ramsey, returned. He attempted to thwart the burglary, but was fatally shot. The burglars, Michael Walker and Anthony Lewis, were later arrested and convicted. Walker, then 18, was light-skinned and had deep acne scars on his face and wore his hair in dreadlocks.
The newspaper reported that the day after Bryant was convicted, Walker, who had been arrested for the murder of Ramsey, told another inmate that Bryant was innocent and that he (Walker) had committed the robbery. The day after Bryant was sentenced to prison, the same inmate said Walker confessed to the crime.
And finally, the friend of Cline’s daughter who was with her in that car that was robbed—a 10-year-old girl at the time—revealed that she initially could not identify Bryant as the gunman. She only did so after Cline’s children told her that the robber was in the number 1 position in the photographic array.
Moreover, on the day she testified, the girl said that she was in the hallway of the courthouse when Bryant, wearing a gray suit, walked by and sat down. The girl said her mother asked her if he was the robber and she said he was not.
When the trial resumed and she was in the courtroom, she saw Bryant at the defense table and realized that she did not know if he was the gunman. She identified him as the gunman anyway.
Following publication of the article, Manatee County State Attorney Ed Brodsky conducted a re-investigation of Bryant’s case and at the same time the Innocence Project of Florida took the case on. As part of the investigation, attempts were made to enhance the surveillance video from the pharmacy.
The Innocence Project of Florida filed an amended motion to vacate the conviction that included claims of newly discovered evidence and inadequate legal defense at Bryant’s trial.
On September 30, 2015, Brodsky released in a five-page statement that summarized the review of the case and announced that he would ask that the conviction be vacated and the charge dismissed.
Brodsky said that the prosecution doubted that Walker ever admitted he was the robber and that Walker denied any involvement in interviews with police.
At the same time, Brodsky noted that the video showed the robber wearing long white pants with white shoes. “Jail records show the defendant was arrested wearing black shorts and shoes described as black. While certainly the defendant could have changed his clothes before surrendering to authorities, changing into shorts seems unlikely,” Brodsky said.
Brodsky also questioned why someone carrying so much cash would stop to rob someone of $10 in a pharmacy drive up lane. While Bryant’s attempt to elude police could show “consciousness of guilt associated to the robbery,” Brodsky also noted that Bryant was wanted on no-bond warrants for a parole violation.
The enhanced video, while still distorted, “raises a question as to whether it matches Andre Bryant,” Brodsky said.
Brodsky said that “while I am not making a finding as to Mr. Bryant’s innocence, I do believe the re-examination of the original and new evidence in this case leads to a reasonable doubt as to Mr. Bryant’s involvement in this robbery…I believe that justice in this case requires the conviction in this matter be set aside.”
On October 1, 2015, the conviction was vacated, the charge was dismissed and Bryant was released.
– Maurice Possley