By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — The murder convictions for the man found guilty of killing two Family Dollar employees was overturned Aug. 23 by the Michigan Court of Appeals.
In the 3-0 decision posted by the court, it also calls for a new trial for Lavere Bryant, now 37.
The court’s opinion stated that “the combination of sexual harassment testimony with defendant’s prior convictions and arrest to prove a sexual assault that was not determinative to the charges and of which there was no physical evidence was highly prejudicial and confused the relevant and material issues of the case.”
The opinion also said the evidence presented against Bryant “did no more than to inject considerations that were extraneous to the merits of the case.”
The court also mentioned that the trial court abused its disposition by allowing the sexual assault evidence and having it affect his conviction.
“It was overwhelming and worked to deprive defendant of a fair trial,” the opinion read.
An appeal will be requested by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office from the Michigan Supreme Court. Bryant will remain behind bars during the process.
Bryant initially was convicted in December 2014 on two counts of first-degree murder and felony murder for the deaths of Brenna Machus and Joseph Orlando.
He was sentenced to life in prison without parol by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard after a jury found him guilty.
During the trial, the jury listened to Bryant’s prior convictions which were called “highly distracting” by the court of appeals in the published opinion.
He also was found guilty of armed robbery, unlawful imprisonment, felony firearm and felon in possession of a firearm.
The incident occurred in July 2013 at a now closed Family Dollar, 22631 Newman, when Orlando’s body was found in the store’s restroom.
Machus’ body was located a few days later in a wooded area southeast of Michigan Avenue and the Southfield Freeway by a man riding his scooter.
Orlando and Machus were shot in the head with .40-caliber bullets. Video surveillance shows the alleged Bryant leaving the store on July 15 and returned the next morning.
Bryant was a field specialist and worked at multiple Family Dollar locations before he was fired in the spring of 2013.
A registered sex offender, Bryant was initially arrested by Dearborn police at a Detroit car wash for failing to register at the address he was known to live.
The Police Department led the investigation which included more than 150 tips and 370 pieces of evidence against Bryant.
Included in those pieces of evidence were fibers from Bryant’s vehicle, blood, a towel, DNA and a red Family Dollar bag.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)