Sitting close to 18-year-old Jekaris Bryant on Jan. 20, 2016, Texas Ranger Jason Shea leaned forward and looked into Bryant’s eyes.
Shea and a state CPS investigator had spent the past hour or so in Shea’s Brownwood office, talking with Bryant about what happened to Bryant’s 28-day-old daughter on Dec. 13, 2015.
“I think there’s something that you’re leaving out,” Shea said, his voice calm and quiet. “Hey … hey. Get it off your chest.”
Bryant, then 18, stared straight ahead in silence for several seconds. Then Bryant spoke softly. “She woke up crying. I fed her …”
Bryant went on to tell Shea and the CPS investigator the baby started choking on her formula. Bryant tried to save the baby from choking by alternately patting her back and holding her with his hands around her body, rocking and gently shaking her.
District attorney Micheal Murray and Assistant District Attorney Elisha Bird played a video of the conversation in Shea’s office Thursday in 35th District Court during the third day of Bryant’s capital murder trial. Bryant, now 19, is accused by indictment of causing Breyla Bryant’s death by shaking, squeezing, striking or by unknown means.
The infant sustained extensive injuries including 32 rib fractures, according to testimony. The medical examiner listed the baby’s cause of death as non-accidental trauma to her head and chest. The prosecution is arguing that the actions Bryant claims he took to relieve the baby’s choking would not have caused the injuries she sustained.
In his opening statement Tuesday to District Judge Steve Ellis, Murray referred to Bryant’s statements to Shea as a “quasi-confession.” In the earlier portions of his statement to the Ranger, Bryant said he hadn’t fed Breyla that day and did not know anything was wrong with her until the infant’s mother, Makahla Brewer, realized she wasn’t breathing.
In the videoed statement, Shea caught Bryant in lies about some of the details of the events surrounding the baby’s death. Bryant admitted to Shea he hadn’t told the truth about those details.
Then Bryant told about the baby choking and described his efforts to help her. “Her eyes just closed. I was in shock,” Bryant told Shea.
Bryant said he hadn’t been able to bring himself to tell those details to anyone, not even Brewer. “I acted like nothing was going on,” Bryant said, referring to the moments before Brewer realized something was wrong with the baby. “I didn’t know how to tell her.”
Earlier Thursday, defense attorney Jud Woodley was allowed to call Brownwood clinical psychologist Dr. Pennissi Taylor out of turn — even though the state had not rested its case — due to scheduling issues.
Taylor said she had been appointed by Ellis to perform a forensic psychological evaluation in areas including his ability to communicate and assist in his defense. Taylor described Bryant as “a handsome young man” who “presented very well.” She said she was surprised that he did not score well in intelligence tests and his IQ score was 73, which she described as “borderline,” a step above “deficient.”
People with borderline intelligence are much more basic and simple minded, have trouble multi-tasking and making high-level decisions and can’t process information rapidly and efficiently, Taylor said.
“They’re more concerned about the here-and-now” rather than the future and consequences of their actions, Taylor said.
Under cross-examination by Bird, Taylor said she’d reviewed some of Bryant’s records from Brownwood High School. Taylor acknowledged that the records showed teachers described Bryant as someone who blamed others for his shortcomings, got in fights, was argumentative, defiant of rules and disruptive and engaged in dramatic, attention-getting activities.
Taylor said that wasn’t surprising because someone with a borderline IQ would tend to be disruptive in order to avoid a task he knows he can’t do.
Other testimony Thursday included a recounting of a Nov. 29, 2016 event, when a quarreling Bryant and Brewer drove to the Law Enforcement Center, where deputies and Brownwood police intervened.