After 23 years, Pat Boyle and his family are still reliving the nightmare.
That’s what happens every time the capital murder case involving Boyle’s son, Officer Danny Boyle, ends up back in court for an appeal, as it did early this month when Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina overturned the death penalty for the rookie Philadelphia cop’s killer.
“We’ve been through this so many times in the past 23 years, it just rips open wounds that we had to suffer for the trial and (sentencing),” Pat Boyle said during a Jan. 14 news conference at Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. “So every time it comes up, it brings us back to the very beginning. It rips open all of those wounds again and we have to relive it.”
On Jan. 10, Sarmina ruled that the death penalty cannot be enforced on Edward Bracey because the U.S. Supreme Court determined in 2002 that executing mentally retarded convicts is unconstitutional. Sarmina found that Bracey’s intelligence quotient is 74 and that his “intellectual functioning is ‘limited’ or ‘subaverage.’ ” The judge changed his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
District Attorney Seth Williams said in a printed statement that he opposes Sarmina’s ruling, but has not determined whether his office will appeal. In the same statement, First Assistant D.A. Edward McCann noted that during another post-conviction hearing in 1998, Bracey’s own attorneys presented three expert witnesses who agreed that the defendant could not be classified as mentally retarded. One expert said Bracey’s I.Q. was five points higher than that of a retarded person, while another expert described his I.Q. as being in the “borderline” range, but not in the mentally retarded range.
“At his murder trial, 12 jurors heard all the evidence, considered all the facts, before determining this defendant was guilty of the crime of homicide and sentenced him to death,” Pat Boyle said. “It was clear then and is clear now that this defendant is not, and I repeat not mentally handicapped.
“At every step of the process, every (argument) that this defendant and his attorneys have put to the appellate courts has been denied, again and again. Now here we are 23 years later and one judge, Judge Sarmina, comes along and arbitrarily dismisses the decision. … This is a miscarriage of justice. It’s outrageous and it mocks all that is right and fair.”
McCann noted that through numerous appeals, Bracey’s attorneys have never challenged the facts of the case.
“None of these challenges deal with the strength of the evidence — the evidence of the defendant’s guilt is undeniable,” the assistant D.A. said.
Bracey fatally shot Officer Danny Boyle on Feb. 4, 1991, at Eighth Street and Germantown Avenue. According to evidence presented at trial, Bracey was driving a stolen car around North Philadelphia to rob street corner drug dealers that night. He was 27.
When Boyle, 21, attempted to stop the suspicious car, Bracey cut through a gas station and crashed into a rowhouse. After Boyle pulled up to the crash site, Bracey jumped onto the hood of the officer’s patrol car, pointed a gun at him and demanded that the officer surrender his gun. As Boyle shifted his vehicle into reverse, Bracey fired about a dozen gunshots at the officer, striking him once in the temple. Boyle died two days later.
“Danny never had a chance to pull his weapon or defend himself,” Pat Boyle said.
A Somerton native and Archbishop Ryan graduate, the younger Boyle had served seven months on the police force.
“We can only imagine what rank (Boyle) would’ve attained in the police department, what he might have accomplished in his life and his career,” FOP Lodge 5 President John McNesby said. “The defendant in this case decided to deny the promise of young Danny Boyle.”
“He was a great son and a great kid,” said Pat Boyle, a retired police lieutenant whose two brothers are also retired cops. “All he wanted to do was follow in our footsteps.”
Pat Boyle noted that his son would never have encountered his killer that night had Bracey not been freed from a Philadelphia prison prior to the shooting.
“(U.S. District) Judge Norma Shapiro put a cap on the number of inmates in the Philadelphia Prison System because of alleged overcrowding,” Pat Boyle said. “Dangerous and predator inmates were released. The defendant in Danny’s case was one of them. He got his ‘get out of jail free’ card.”
McNesby compared Sarmina’s ruling to the Wesley Cook (a.k.a. Mumia Abu Jamal) case in which a federal appeals court in 2011 overturned the death penalty, citing a trial judge’s potentially misleading instructions to jurors. Cook murdered Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981 and is serving life in prison.
“This case was tried in the 1990s and reversed by Sarmina based on a 2002 court ruling,” the police union leader said. “Apparently, in this city, the law is only retroactive when it benefits the killer of a cop. We’ve seen this with Danny Faulkner and now we see it with Danny Boyle.
“It is a cruel irony that the same laws that Danny Boyle had sworn to abide by and enforce do not give him that same justice now. This case was a proper case under the law for the death penalty and we will not rest until the killer of Danny Boyle gets what he deserves.”
Pat Boyle doesn’t feel that the justice system gives proper consideration to the victim and his loved ones.
“We were pretty much furniture in the courtroom. We had no standing,” he said. “We weren’t asked to render an opinion. We weren’t asked to testify. It was belittling to say the least. We’ve gotten to the point where the victim and the victim’s family are forgotten in this process. It’s all about the defendant, ‘what more can we do for him?’ But nobody worries about us or Danny, and that’s wrong.” ••