A Virginia appeals court ruling on teenagers charged with felonies will not open the door to a new trial for Kenny Bryant, who was 17 when he killed one man and wounded another in Fairfax County in 1976. A Fairfax judge yesterday denied Bryant's claim that he was improperly tried as an adult 23 years ago.
Bryant, now 40 and serving a life sentence, had pinned his hopes for a new trial on the 1998 appeals court ruling, which upheld a state requirement that both parents must be notified before a juvenile can stand trial as an adult, even if one parent has long been absent from the child's life.
The ruling sparked panic statewide among prosecutors fearful of a spate of resurrected cases. So this year, Virginia legislators amended the law to require that only one parent need be notified. But the appeals court ruling, and a state Supreme Court ruling affirming it, made clear that the two-parent rule applied in earlier cases.
The law has been changed several times over the years, though, as Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Todd F. Sanders noted in his brief in the Bryant case, in 1976 the law required that only one parent be notified unless the parents lived outside the state, in which case neither had to be informed.
Bryant was born and raised in Kentucky, where he ran up a string of more than 30 convictions by age 16. In 1976, he moved in with a half brother in Fairfax. On Aug. 18 of that year, Bryant fatally shot James D. Cox, manager of a Richmond Highway 7-Eleven, then walked across the street and shot and wounded another man.
Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. decided to try Bryant as an adult, citing his lengthy criminal record. Horan sent a certified letter to Bryant's mother in Owensboro, Ky., but it came back undelivered. His mother later said that neither she nor her husband was informed that their son was being tried for murder as an adult. Fairfax authorities believe Bryant's father was in an Indiana prison at the time.
Circuit Judge Henry E. Hudson ruled yesterday that since neither parent was living in Virginia in 1976, no notification was required.
Hudson also noted that neither parent attended a similar hearing in Kentucky a year earlier.
Bryant, who is eligible for parole, remains at the Powhatan Correctional Center. Mykl D. Egan, one of his lawyers, declined to comment on Hudson's ruling.