Bryant Reflects on His Legendary Career as a District Attorney, Prosecutor and Judge – American Press
By Crystal Stevenson
Journeys begin for a variety of reasons, and the quest that prompted Rick Bryant to spend nearly 40 years of community service in the legal profession was actually quite simple.
“I didn’t want to knock a clock,” he admits.
After serving in Vietnam, Bryant first worked for nearly a year at Gulf Oil in Port Arthur, Texas before deciding to return to school using the GI Bill.
Bryant enrolled at McNeese State University originally as a pre-law major before realizing foreign languages weren’t his forte.
“I was terrible at foreign languages and you had to have 15 hours, so I changed subjects and did something else,” he laughed. “I had no preconceived idea of what I would do, I just knew I was going to law school and going from there. You don’t have to have a pre-school degree. right to go to law school.
Bryant was accepted into LSU Law School and after graduation he joined Southwest Louisiana Legal Services.
“When Lynn Knapp became a district attorney in 1979, I applied there and he hired me,” Bryant said. “I was the last person they hired and the lowest paid assistant in the office. I worked at something called Child Support Enforcement for about a year, and then Lynn came to me and said, ‘Rick, we’re going to prosecute you for a felony. ”
Bryant said there were only four other criminal prosecutors on staff at the time, working in the former Lakeside Bank building on the seventh floor.
Recalling history with a chuckle all these years later, Bryant can say the change worked in his favor. He enjoyed a career spanning nearly four decades as a prosecutor, district attorney and judge.
“It was a huge leap at the time,” he said. “I had never even tried a case; I appreciated the change, but I had never thought of being a prosecutor.
It turns out that lawsuits — Bryant sued nearly 200 cases with just one loss — was his calling.
“They kept giving me the cases that other people wouldn’t try and I kept winning,” he said. “I won a case against future DA Richard Ieyoub and Tom Lorenzi which made the news in New York. It was the James Humphrey case and he was convicted without an eyewitness and we got some publicity national.
Humphrey was charged with the April 28, 1978, second-degree murder of his children, Latasha Denise Humphrey and Janice Faye Humphrey.
After about three years, Bryant was promoted to Chief of Criminal Prosecutions and honed his craft.
“I tried four six-person juries in a five-day week and got four convictions,” Bryant said. “I tried two second degree murder cases in one week, which had never been done. Chosen to a jury on Wednesday, sentenced on Friday. My mindset was that wild prosecutor at the time, all I wanted to do was try cases. I loved being in the courtroom. Do it again.”
After Knapp chose not to seek re-election, Ieyoub was elected DA and became one of Bryant’s greatest mentors. Ieyoub would eventually leave his term early to run for – and win – the post of state attorney general.
“I never wanted to be DA, but after a month of not being able to find anyone else, they all looked at me,” he said. “I said I would only do it if I could still try cases.”
Bryant threw his hat in the ring, running against Cliff Newman for about a month before Newman gave up and Bryant won unopposed.
“When I became DA, my goal was to stay in the courtroom. Most district attorneys don’t pursue cases. I did.”
Bryant said he compares himself to a worker in a chemical plant.
“I started at the bottom and worked my way up,” he said. “I saw changes that needed to be made, so we made them.”
Among them were the creation of the pre-trial diversion program for non-violent young offenders, misdemeanor probation, and drug programs.
Also during this time, Calcasieu Parish’s most notorious trials took place – Ricky Langley, Leslie Dale Martin, Thomas Frank Cisco and Jason Reeves. Langley was convicted of second degree murder in the death of 6-year-old Jeremy Guillory in 1992. Martin was convicted and later executed for the rape and murder of Christina Burgin in 1981. Cisco was convicted of having fatally shot Marty LeBouef, Stacie Reeves, and Nicole Guidry in the early morning hours of July 6, 1997, and leaving their bodies in coolers at KK’s Corner convenience store. Reeves was convicted of murdering 4-year-old Mary Jean Thigpen in 2001.
The Langley case was among the most emotional for Bryant, who said his son was also 6 at the time.
“That’s probably the only time I’ve cried over a case,” said Bryant, who was there when the boy’s body was discovered. “The one thing with prosecutors is that you have to be passionate about what you do. You have to care about that and I got really close to a lot of families.
Wilbert Rideau is where Bryant considers his only loss.
Rideau was convicted in 1961 of the first degree murder of Julia Ferguson during a bank robbery and sentenced to death. After the United States Supreme Court ruled that states should rework their death penalty laws due to constitutional concerns, the Louisiana Supreme Court judicially changed his sentence in 1972 to life in prison. Rideau would eventually appeal his case four times. The first new trial ordered was due to unfavorable pre-trial publicity. He was again convicted of murder. The next two trials were ordered because the case was heard by all-male, all-white juries. Rideau was again convicted of murder in 1964 and 1970. He had served more than 40 years in Angola when in 2005 he was tried for a fourth time due to a technicality in the selection of the grand jury foreman. in the original indictment.
“I had to send my investigators to the FBI Academy to transcribe the (interrogation) tape because there was no other place in the country that did it and we found the only living court reporter for certify it,” he said. “The trial was difficult because we only had one or two living witnesses, all the others were dead. We had to ask a few people to read the parts of the victims at the time.
Johnnie Cochran, who was part of OJ Simpson’s defense team, even flew in from New York for the trial.
“Rideau was guilty,” Bryant said. “I told the jurors to look at this case like it was yesterday. You can’t use your independent judgment and decide he’s served long enough and let him out, but that’s exactly what We even had a videotape of him from 20 years earlier where he was being interviewed by a person from Houston and she asked him why he killed those people and he said, ‘I guess I didn’t like white people.” Despite all that, when they came back for manslaughter, I was shocked.
“It’s my biggest regret of my career,” Bryant said. “The jury came back with manslaughter as opposed to first degree murder and that got him out in time. I tried 200 cases, lost one. He shouldn’t be free. I consider it a loss because he got out.
His biggest achievement, he said, was the convictions of Robyn Davis and Carol Saltzman, who were convicted for the 2009 death of Davis’ husband.
“We had no eyewitnesses, we had no confessions, we had no DNA, we had no fingerprints, nothing,” he said. “It was a totally circumstantial case, but I would say what we put together as a team was great. I also think it was also one of my best closing arguments because I was able to tie it all together using their statements, their cell phone records, the weather. They all thought they were going home that day, but within two hours the jurors found them guilty of murder. It was the hardest case of my life. career. “
Bryant served three terms as a district attorney, unopposed each time, and served one term as a judge.
“I love being in the office, I love judging cases, I love working with law enforcement, that’s what I love doing,” he said. “I didn’t like being a judge. It’s a difference between being a referee and a player and I didn’t like being a referee. I immediately went back to the courtroom and I’m glad I did.
Bryant said there is no greater privilege for him than to fight for the people and be the voice of those who have not. It gave the job a lot of meaning, he said.
Bryant also credits his team – Robert Wyatt, Lilynn Cutrer, Patricia Minaldi, David Kimball, Wayne Frey, Paul Reggie and Ronnie Rossitto – as the biggest contributors to his success.
“We worked as a family and all of these people were great in the courtroom, great with the public, and great with law enforcement. Three of them became judges. I’ve been blessed with a lot of good people supporting me, working with me, and making me look good, to be honest with you. I can’t do anything by myself.
For the past year, Bryant has served as a consultant for District Attorney Stephen Dwight’s office. That will wrap up on Monday, and he will begin training Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies on how to testify in a courtroom.
He also acts as defense counsel in shootings involving officers and is on call in case search warrants are needed.
Should he be called upon again to serve as a prosecutor in any Louisiana parish, Bryant said he would jump at the chance.
“In the blink of an eye,” he said. “I miss the war in the courtroom. I miss the battle. I’m not good at a lot of things. I suck at golf, even though I love it. But in the courtroom, I’m a different person. I’m good and I love it. »