Decades later…a death sentence denied

  • A look back: Friends and family attend memorial services for Officer Daniel Boyle, who was fatally shot on Feb. 4, 1991, at Eighth Street and Germantown Avenue. On Jan. 10, Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina ruled that the death penalty cannot be enforced on convicted killer Edward Bracey due to his mental disability. TIMES FILE PHOTO

  • A look back: Friends and family attend memorial services for Officer Daniel Boyle, who was fatally shot on Feb. 4, 1991, at Eighth Street and Germantown Avenue. On Jan. 10, Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina ruled that the death penalty cannot be enforced on convicted killer Edward Bracey due to his mental disability. TIMES FILE PHOTO

  • Nancy Boyle, mother of the slain officer, and Ofc. Tommy Kuhn, a childhood friend, were among loved ones to protest a judge’s latest ruling in the case. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Keeping watch: Family members of Ofc. Danny Boyle have been waiting 23 years for justice to be served in the officer’s murder. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

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.” ••

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