Joe Bryan

Time Served: 32

Source: Innocence Project of Texas
99 Years


Mickey Bryan, a fourth-grade teacher in Clifton, was found murdered in her home on October 15, 1985. Her husband, Joe Bryan, a school principal, was attending an education conference 120 miles away in Austin at the time of her death. Police initially investigated Mickey’s death as a burglary resulting in homicide.

Mickey’s brother, Charlie Blue, traveled to Clifton after her death and hired a private investigator. While in Clifton, Mr. Blue borrowed Joe’s vehicle. Four days after borrowing the vehicle, Mr. Blue told authorities that when he opened the trunk, he found a flashlight with what appeared to be small bloodstains on the lens.

The specks on the flashlight lens were human blood, type O – the same blood type as Mickey’s and approximately 50% of the population. In 1985, blood typing was the most precise tool that law enforcement had for such evidence. The crime lab chemist also found a few tiny plastic particles on the flashlight lens that, they said, appeared to have the same characteristics as fragments of the birdshot shells that were found at the crime scene.

Arrest & Trial

Despite being 120 miles away at the time of the crime and no clear motive, Joe was arrested on October 23, 1985, eight days after Mickey’s death. Joe’s trial took place in March of 1986. In addition to the public prosecutor, a special prosecutor was hired by Charlie Blue.

With no eyewitnesses who could place Joe in Clifton at the time of the murder, no motive and no forensic evidence that conclusively tied him to the crime scene, the prosecution’s case rested largely on the flashlight. A blood stain pattern analyst, whose work has since been debunked and retracted, provided testimony that linked the flashlight to the crime scene. During the trial, a detective stated that Joe was the beneficiary of a $300,000 life insurance policy. Joe was convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison.

In February 1988, Joe was released when a three-judge panel concluded that the trial judge erred when he denied a defense request to reopen testimony late in the trial. The judge had prevented Joe’s attorneys from reading a deposition with the Bryans’ insurance agent in which the agent refuted the claim that Mickey’s death was “worth over $300,000” to Joe. The actual value was less than half that amount. The ruling made no determination as to Joe’s guilt or innocence.

The Bosque County DA’s office retried Joe in June of 1989. The district attorney was again assisted by the special prosecutor and they summoned largely the same witnesses who appeared at the first trial. The prosecution’s explanation of the crime was that shortly after speaking with Mickey on the phone at 9:15pm, Joe slipped out of the hotel and drove 120 miles to Clifton, through heavy rain, shot Mickey, with whom he had no history of conflict; got rid of the pistol and jewelry but kept a flashlight speckled with blood in his trunk; drove 120 miles back to Austin; and re-entered the hotel in time to clean up and attend the conference’s morning session, without leaving behind a single eyewitness. Again, based largely on the blood pattern analysis and plastic found on the flashlight, Joe was found guilty and sentenced to 99 years


In 2016, IPTX filed a complaint with the Texas Forensic Science Commission who reviewed the blood pattern analysis and testimony from 1985 and determined that it was “absolutely unreliable.”

In 2018, IPTX presented new evidence, including statements about a potential suspect and the Texas Forensic Science Commission’s rulings, in attempt to secure a new trial. The blood pattern analyst from Joe’s trial submitted an affidavit stating: “Some of my techniques and methodology were incorrect. Therefore, some of my testimony was not correct… in no way did I lie in my report or testimony, as I was doing what I thought was correct as a result of my training at the time.” The court did not grant a new trial.

IPTX secured parole attorneys to assist with Joe’s parole hearing in March of 2020. Numerous character witnesses, including author John Grisham, provided statements to the board of pardons and paroles. Joe was granted parole and released on March 31, more than 30 years after being wrongfully convicted for his wife’s murder.

In 2021, IPTX filed a petition with the Supreme Court to review Joe’s case based on actual innocence. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case. All current legal avenues to prove Joe’s innocence have been exhausted.

Source: Innocence Project of Texas

Media Coverage

Systemic Failures Have Wrongly
Imprisoned Thousands of
Innocent Texans.

The Generosity of Their Fellow Citizens Can Provide Them
The Freedom They Deserve.

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