- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A Cleveland man sentenced to death for killing a police officer 15 years ago can have a new trial because prosecutors improperly excluded a black woman from the jury, a federal judge in Toledo has ruled.

A jury convicted Quisi Bryan, 44, of aggravated murder and recommended he be sentenced to death in 2000 for the fatal shooting of Cleveland officer Wayne Leon during a traffic stop at a gas station. Bryan didn’t dispute during trial that he’d shot Leon.

U.S. District Court Judge James Carr’s ruling Thursday says a prosecutor injected a racial component into what were otherwise race-neutral concerns that the potential juror expressed in a court questionnaire. The prosecutor then dismissed her.

The prosecutor asked the woman about her jury questionnaire reference to “The Ox-Bow Incident,” a book and film that features a lynch mob hanging innocent men. The prosecutor said he dismissed the woman because she cited the story of the lynching of an African-American.

But the prosecutor’s identification of the victim’s race in “The Ox-Bow Incident” was incorrect, Carr wrote. And even if it hadn’t been, Carr said, the prosecutor “directly and unilaterally injected a racial component into the equation.”

These were significant signs that the potential juror’s race played a role in the prosecutor’s dismissal of her from the jury pool, Carr ruled.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty said in a statement Thursday he believes that the judge’s ruling will be reversed and that Bryan would be sentenced to death again even if there were to be a new trial.

Following the case in 2000, Bryan was convicted of rape and several other sexual assault charges in cases that happened prior to Leon’s death.

“Since Officer Leon was murdered in cold blood, we have learned that Bryan killed Officer Leon not over a routine traffic stop, but because Bryan was a serial rapist who feared being identified as the man who had sexually assaulted five different women in that area,” McGinty said. “For killing Officer Wayne Leon, Quisi Bryan belongs on death row.”

Bryan’s attorney said the Thursday ruling is in line with established constitutional law that says a selection of a jury is fundamental to a fair trial.

“It’s a strong and important decision that reflects the long-standing principal that you can’t discriminate in how a jury is selected, and that discrimination won’t be tolerated,” said attorney Alan Rossman.

Bryan was the first person in Ohio to be sentenced to death for killing a police officer after the Legislature in 1998 expanded the state’s death penalty qualifications to include the crime.


Associated Press writer Mark Gillispie in Cleveland contributed to this report.

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