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Murder convictions overturned in Dearborn store deaths

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Dearborn — The Michigan appeals court has overturned murder convictions and ordered a new trial for a man accused of killing two people who worked at a Family Dollar store in Dearborn.

The court says Lavere Bryant’s trial was spoiled by testimony that wasn’t relevant to the charges against him. He was accused of killing Joseph Orlando and Brenna Machus, both 20, who worked at the store.

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard sentenced Bryant, now 37, in December 2014 to spend the rest of his life behind bars without the possibility of parole in the slayings

Orlando’s body was found in the store in July 2013 while Machus’ body was found nearby in a wooded area. Bryant was a former co-worker.

During the trial, jurors heard about Bryant’s prior convictions, his sex offender status and viewing of pornography. The appeals court says the testimony was “highly distracting” and not related to the slayings.

The 3-0 decision was released Wednesday.

The prosecutor’s office will seek an appeal from the Michigan Supreme Court.

Prosecutor spokeswoman Maria Miller said Wednesday that Bryant will remain incarcerated.

She also noted “the application for leave to appeal must be filed within 56 days” from the order.

Bryant’s former attorney, Charles Longstreet, said Wednesday that he objected during the trial to admission of prior convictions and sex offender status.

Longstreet says he no longer represents Bryant and wishes him the best of luck on his new trial.

A surveillance tape showed a man entering the Family Dollar on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn around the time the workers were killed in July 2013.

Orlando's body was found in the Dearborn store's bathroom with a gunshot wound to the head.

Machus' body was found a few days later in a wooded area near the Southfield Freeway and Michigan Avenue. She had been shot in the head as well.

Bryant took the stand in his own defense during the trial.

A juror in the case later said "DNA evidence convinced us" of Bryant's guilt, and his testimony made things worse.

"His testimony buried him more. He didn't say, 'Hey, I'm innocent,' " said the juror, who did not want his name published. "If I was him, I would have tried to defend myself more."

The Associated Press contributed.