Innocent Bystander: An Innocent Man Wins in Court But Loses in the Long Run

Roderick O'Bryant got sucked into a court case that stole his life from him.

All the while, their appetites were growing. Almost three hours into the errands, O'Bryant and his family swung through McDonald's. O'Bryant still remembers the order — he even asked for an extra toy for Tyliyah. They turned toward home. The day had started well.

Meanwhile, miles from the shopping, 1,000 meters from O'Bryant's house, Turner and his sister exited the Food Mart O'Bryant had visited earlier that morning. Turner's family didn't respond to interview requests for the story, but while Turner had been convicted five years earlier for a juvenile sex offense, there's nothing on his record in the following years. With his family living across the street from the store, Turner took his 17-year-old sister, Deandra Jackson, and his 15-year-old brother, Paul Jackson, over for a quick snack. Deandra babbled on her phone, chattering with her boyfriend.

A man walked by wearing blue Dickies, a dark shirt, and red and black Jordans. He turned. According to the police report, the man heard something — something Deandra had said, lost somewhere in that phone conversation with her boyfriend. "What did you say?"

Roderick O'Bryant, flanked by his sister, Kenethia O'Bryant, and his mother, Ava Newman, was found not guilty of murder in early May — but lost nearly everything anyway.
Photo by Daniel Kramer
Roderick O'Bryant, flanked by his sister, Kenethia O'Bryant, and his mother, Ava Newman, was found not guilty of murder in early May — but lost nearly everything anyway.
Shelton Sparks, O'Bryant's lawyer, was successful in showing the jury that the case against his client was a weak one.
Photo by Daniel Kramer
Shelton Sparks, O'Bryant's lawyer, was successful in showing the jury that the case against his client was a weak one.

Turner looked at him. "She wasn't talking to you, man." The man moved closer and repeated his question, and Turner repeated his answer and stepped toward him.

The man's hair was cropped short. His sclera were red. There was a single lead-colored drop under one eye. Apparently no one knew who he was. Staring at Turner, he introduced himself. C-Note.

"If I catch y'all on the street, you're mine, bitch," he said.

Turner responded: "I'm right here, ain't I?"

According to Paul, who later related the story to detectives, Turner then put his fists under his chin, while his mother, Yvette, alerted by the yelling, ran out of the house and planted herself between them. An uncle, Uncle Junior, followed, bellowing at the two men to stop. Turner didn't listen. He slid past his mother, placing himself in front of the man. C-Note pulled a gun from his waistband. "It was black," Paul later said. "An automatic."

The first shots missed Turner, lacerating Deandra's thigh. The final shot went through Turner's teeth and lodged in the back of his neck. He stumbled a few feet, twisting to the entrance of the driveway, and fell. Purple blood seeped from his mouth. Two minutes later, minutes of screaming and sprinting, Turner dragged himself up, struggling to reach his porch. C-Note saw, and sent five more bullets at him. Some hit. Turner collapsed. C-Note then pushed a bystander off his bike and rode off.

When a call came in to Crime Stoppers that morning, a voice said he or she had recognized the shooter. Roderick O'Bryant. Lived just a few blocks away. Because of the anonymous nature of the calls, O'Bryant says he still has no idea who would have put his name out there.

Police located the house, but O'Bryant hadn't yet returned. They waited. Soon he got back from his shopping, and they knocked, and he walked past a daughter watching her father being cuffed. As O'Bryant sat down in the cruiser, one officer peered in, looking over the suspect. "Why's he have a beard?" the officer asked the driver, who glanced back silently. O'Bryant's scruff stood out scraggly and unkempt. Days' growth.

As they secured him in the backseat, Newman got the attention of one of the officers. She pleaded with him. She told him where they'd been — Family Dollar, the post office, McDonald's. All while C-Note was back near the Food Mart, unleashing bullets through the crowd and into Turner's neck. The officer turned and said, "Well, my goodness; for you to have been back here, you must have been Superwoman."

Neighbors were questioned, but no one, including the man who vomited upon witnessing the shooting, said he or she knew the name C-Note. No one said they recognized the shooter. The police searched the premises and the car with Newman's permission but turned up neither weapon nor bicycle, only a pair of Jordans.

O'Bryant's questioning at the station was short, rote. Thirty minutes of protocol. The 29-year-old appeared frustrated — his daughter had just been left sobbing in the wind — but he managed to maintain his composure. And he'd laid the handful of the day's receipts on the table next to him: a paper trail detailing how he'd spent his morning. Proof, or as close as he could provide, that he couldn't have been C-Note.

According to Shelton Sparks, O'Bryant's lawyer, the detectives later tossed the receipts as immaterial. They apparently believed that since the receipts were time-stamped after the shooting, their relevance was minimal.

Simultaneously, Turner's family was called in, with Deandra having been treated for her wound and given sufficient Vicodin for the pain. There was, however, no interview with Uncle Junior. One of the key witnesses in the murder, according to Sparks, was ignored. "Seems like they didn't want anyone that could change the story," Sparks later said. "Didn't want to risk the description they already had."

Investigators presented Yvette and Deandra with a "six-pack," a slip of paper containing six head shots matching the physical descriptors of the suspect in question. The method, in which all photos are displayed simultaneously, has rapidly fallen out of use in Texas — Austin, Dallas and San Antonio have opted for the more accurate sequential spread, in which photos are displayed one at a time. Houston, though, hasn't yet mandated such a shift.

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Every time we hear or read about innocent folks being eaten alive by our so-called 'justice' system, there are dozens of others who suffer in anonymity.  Marc Anderson 1981 you are right on the money with the comment you made below.  Speaking of money, the only way to get justice in America is to purchase it.  I see much the same thing coming soon to our healthcare industry now that O-care is in effect, but that is outside the scope of this topic so I will shut up about it.


I read this story and know this family's agony.  My husband also was accused of something he did not do and because he had dealt with the justice system in the past, it seems that is all the police and prosecutors saw.  He spent 3-1/2 years in Harris county jail awaiting trial before he got his freedom back.  In the meanwhile, bankruptcy, bills, missed birthdays and Christmas' away from a new wife who had a stroke within a month of his arrest.  Deaths of several family members occurred and there was nothing he could do but sit in jail and wait.  He also contracted a nasty Staph infection in jail and was hospitalized and underwent multiple surgeries.  He now works doing "what he can" and will never be on the earning track he was on prior to this injustice.  We are not African American, but white, so I believe the prosecutors and police don't look beyond a person's past (even if they have overcome it) and don't consider it a race issue, but YES, they do need to reconsider how they do their jobs and consider someone innocent until proven guilty.  Thank you for sharing your story and helping us to not feel so alone.


The U.S. Criminal Justice System: Big on Criminal, not so much on the Justice.

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