High court revives convictions in dollar store slayings
Murder convictions should be reinstated against a Detroit man for the brutal slaying of two Dearborn dollar store workers nearly five years ago, the Michigan State Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
The ruling reverses a decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals ordering a new trial for Lavere Bryant, 39. The lower court said the trial was tainted when jurors heard about Bryant’s history of sexual harassment and his sex offender status.
Bryant was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole in December 2014 for the brutal murders of Brenna Machus and Joseph Orlando, employees at a Family Dollar store on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn, on July 15, 2013.
A surveillance tape shows a man, identified as Bryant, entering the Family Dollar on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn around the time the crime occurred.
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, too. Both victims were 20.
Bryant was a former employee of the store.
During court proceedings, prosecutors said Bryant’s DNA was found on towels in the store’s bathroom. A number of witnesses identified Bryant as the individual seen leaving the store with Machus.
Investigators found fibers similar to those from Machus’ pants in Bryant’s car.
Also during his trial, there was testimony about Bryant’s sexual harassment history involving co-workers and customers and about a criminal sexual conduct conviction that required him to register as a sex offender.
In 2016, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the testimony about Bryant’s alleged sexual harassment history and his sex offender status was inadmissible because it “was overwhelming and worked to deprive (Bryant) of a fair trial.”
But the justices disagreed, saying “the evidence of defendant’s guilt was undoubtedly overwhelming.”
“He was linked to the robbery and murders by identification testimony, as well as by physical and circumstantial evidence,” the justices ruled Wednesday.
Maria Miller, the spokeswoman for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, said Wednesday: “We are pleased with the decision of the Michigan Supreme Court today. This means that Bryant will serve his sentence of life in prison without parole.”
During his sentencing, Bryant told Wayne County Circuit Judge Qiana Lillard: “I never murdered anyone” and that he was a “caring person.”
A juror in the case said “DNA evidence convinced us” of Bryant’s guilt.