In the weeks leading up to a scheduled hearing on her petition for resentencing, Ms. Karen Howell—one of the co-defendants who pleaded guilty to the Lillelid murders—along with her co-defendant, Ms. Natasha Cornett, released a pair of lengthy, self-serving statements that several media outlets have since published unedited and without verification. The Greene County District Attorney’s Office and its agents have since responded to those statements with statements to the media of their own.
Jason Bryant, the then-14-year-old child who has also filed a petition for resentencing on account of his being a juvenile at the time of his offense, has not sought to comment publicly on the case. However, in response to the recent, prejudicial coverage relating to his upcoming proceedings, Daniel Horwitz, lead counsel for Jason Bryant, has released the following statement on Mr. Bryant’s behalf:
My heart breaks for the Lillelid family, which suffered what can only be described as a horrific and unspeakable tragedy. It is, however, highly inappropriate for Karen Howell, Natasha Cornett, the Greene County District Attorney’s Office, or any other party involved in this case to attempt to litigate disputed legal issues through the media. Those attempts have seriously prejudiced Jason Bryant’s right to a fair proceeding, and they will likely necessitate a change of venue when his hearing takes place.
Although Rule 3.6(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct strongly counsels against public comment in cases like this, Rule 3.6(c) includes an exception permitting attorneys to make public statements when it becomes necessary to correct a misimpression in the public record due to “the substantial undue prejudicial effect of recent publicity not initiated by the lawyer or the lawyer’s client.” Consequently, the purpose of this statement is to correct three such misimpressions.
First, Mr. Bryant did not shoot anyone, and no jury has ever determined that he did.
Second, former District Attorney General Berkeley Bell’s statement that “the co-defendants blamed the shooting on Bryant because he was the youngest of the group” is accurate, as is his statement that “Bryant wasn’t part of the group.” In contrast, Karen Howell’s and Natasha Cornett’s self-serving statements assigning Jason Bryant the blame for the Lillelids’ murders are not. When Jason Bryant’s adult co-defendants discovered that Mr. Bryant—who was the only outsider to the otherwise closely-knit group, and who was also the youngest member of the group by far—was actually a juvenile who had pretended to be significantly older than he was, one of his adult co-defendants instructed him that he had to take responsibility for the Lillelids’ slayings. That individual then pointed a gun at Mr. Bryant, shot him in the hand, and threatened to kill him if he did not. Mr. Bryant still has visible scars from this event where the bullet went through his hand and entered his leg.
Third, Mr. Bryant was threatened and coerced into joining the group plea bargain to life without the possibility of parole against his will and against his clear legal interests. Jason Bryant was just a fourteen-year-old child at the time of the Lillelids’ murders, and thus, he was not eligible for the death penalty on account of his being a juvenile. As such, Mr. Bryant gained nothing from accepting a group plea bargain to a life sentence without the possibility of parole, which served only to spare his adult co-defendants the death penalty.
It is our position that these facts and the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Eighth Amendment jurisprudence establishing that it is nearly categorically unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life without the possibility of parole entitle Mr. Bryant to a new sentencing hearing. These issues, however, must be decided in a court of law, rather than in the court of public opinion. Accordingly, this will be Mr. Bryant’s first and only public statement on this case. We ask that the parties and the media respect the judicial process and refrain from further prejudicing Mr. Bryant’s right to a fair proceeding going forward.