Bryant to serve nine years in shooting death of friend
Belfast — Luke Bryant will be 30 years old by the time he serves out the nine-year sentence the court imposed in the Feb. 2011 shooting death of his 19-year-old friend Tyler Seaney.
Justice Robert Murray handed down that decision following Bryant's sentencing hearing at Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 3. The hearing followed Bryant's criminal trial in August, at which time a jury found Bryant guilty on a charge of Class A manslaughter.
Murray imposed a total sentence of 15 years with all but nine years suspended and four years of probation following Bryant's release. One of the conditions the court ordered as part of Bryant's probation is that he will be barred from possessing or using dangerous weapons.
Also as part of his probation, Bryant must pay restitution in the amount of $3,158.
Bryant was convicted of killing Seaney at his Dolloff Road apartment in Knox on the night of Feb. 19, 2011. Bryant told police he was trying to clear his 12-gauge shotgun when he accidentally pulled the trigger as Seaney stepped out of the bathroom, but the state alleged Bryant was engaged in a scare game with Seaney when he raised the shotgun in his friend's direction and pulled the trigger.
Before the justice announced his finding, Bryant addressed the court and said he understood he would have to serve a "sizable sentence."
"Tyler [Seaney] was my very best friend, he helped me so much," said Bryant, his voice breaking as he spoke. "He was like a brother to me. I think about him every day."
'No amount of time will bring him back'
As part of the sentencing hearing, Seaney's family and friends addressed the court about how Seaney's death on the night of Feb. 19, 2011, had impacted their lives.
Perhaps the most striking of those addresses was that of Seaney's mother, Rhonda Seaney, who tearfully described the night she learned her son had been killed and how she and her family have suffered in the months that have followed his death.
"I had the horrifying pictures in my head of him covered in blood with nobody there, with nobody to hold him," she said.
Rhonda Seaney said after her son's death she had a nervous breakdown to the point that she was suicidal, and as a result she lost her job.
"I feel so broken, and I don't know if I'll ever recover from this loss," she said.
When speaking about what she thought was an appropriate sentence for Bryant, Rhonda Seaney said she had no definitive answer.
"No amount of time will bring him back, bring back my son," she said.
Seaney's maternal grandmother, Estelle Harriman, described how Seaney willingly moved in with her after her husband of 47 years passed away in 2010 and was slowly helping her heal from that loss when he was killed.
"Before I could mourn my husband, Tyler [Seaney] was gone," said Harriman. "I thought I would die... Tyler was the best thing I could have asked for. He was like an angel come to save me."
Seaney's girlfriend, Whitney Canfield, who was at Bryant's apartment on the night of the shooting, said Seaney's death changed her life from that of a typical teenager to a youth who requires regular counseling to help her cope with what she experienced.
"No matter how hard I try, the images are stuck forever," she said.
Seeking 'lenience and mercy'
Bryant's defense attorney, Steven Peterson, agreed with the state that Bryant must serve a "serious sentence," but also encouraged the court to consider the impact of Seaney's death on his client.
"Luke [Bryant] has more than already learned a lesson," said Peterson.
Peterson argued that while Bryant's conduct on that February 2011 night was certainly serious, it did not rise to the level of a more violent crime, such as a home invasion that results in a sexual assault.
And because of the factors working in Bryant's favor, like his age and lack of a prior criminal history, Peterson suggested a sentence of 10 years with all but the mandatory minimum four years suspended and four years' probation.
"That is certainly not a light sentence for someone who has no criminal history," said Peterson.
Several of Bryant's supporters addressed the court and asked the justice to be merciful when deciding Bryant's fate.
Bryant's sister, April Choate, said despite how her brother had been portrayed in the media, he is not a monster.
"Since day one, he has taken responsibility for his actions," she said.
Choate said she recognized the great sense of loss Seaney's family and friends are experiencing, but said a lengthy prison sentence would do little to ease that pain.
"Sending him away for any length of time will not change that," said Choate.
Matthew Bosk, who identified himself as a friend of both Seaney and Bryant, pleaded with the court to reduce the amount of loss this case has brought to the people involved since the night of Feb. 19, 2011.
"I lost a friend that day, and I feel that I'm also losing a friend today," he said.
Matthew Bosk's mother, Melinda Bosk, said she knew how difficult Bryant's childhood had been, and she'd seen him overcome a lot of the painful memories of his childhood in the years she's known him.
Melinda Bosk said Bryant is hesitant to show emotion because he was punished for expressing his feelings as a child, but after shooting his friend to death, Melinda Bosk said, Bryant was nearly inconsolable for hours.
Melinda Bosk also refuted the judge's finding that Bryant was a flight risk at the conclusion of his trial, noting that he had the chance to join his father in the Philippines and skip the trial but that Bryant had refused to do so.
"We have two human beings here, we are dealing with two lives," she said. "This is a human being here, and he deserves a fair sentence."
Melinda Bosk's husband, Gary Bosk, identified himself as Bryant's former school principal, his pastor and his surrogate father.
"I plead with the court for leniency and mercy in this situation," he said. "I know he will live with this tragedy for the rest of his life, and he knows that."
'Slightly below' knowing murder
Assistant Attorney General Leanne Zainea said it was a difficult task the state had to undertake when determining where on the scale of seriousness Seaney's death fell under the parameters of the law.
But, the prosecutor added, it is more difficult to fully understand the sense of loss Seaney's family and friends have experienced since the night Seaney died.
"It is unimaginable, the loss they have suffered, or will continue to endure, regardless of the sentence imposed here today," said Zainea.
Zainea outlined how the state arrives at a suggested prison sentence for a defendant, and based on several mitigating and aggravating factors she recommended a sentence of 18 years with all but 12 years suspended and four years of probation. Among the factors working against Bryant, said Zainea, was the fact that he used a firearm in a reckless manner that directly resulted in Seaney's death.
"The defendant used firearms as if they were a toy," said Zainea.
Zainea said Bryant's failure to check the shotgun to see whether it was loaded before he pulled the trigger as Seaney exited the nearby bathroom was "slightly below conduct that would constitute knowing murder."
Zainea also noted Bryant's actions indicated that he did not consider the potential risk to others, including Seaney, Canfield and other people residing in the apartment building.
The impact on the victims in the case, said Zainea, is another important factor to consider when determining an appropriate sentence.
"Aside from his age, and his military hopes, he was a son, brother, grandson and friend to many," said Zainea of Seaney. "The defendant took Tyler [Seaney] out of their lives."
Zainea also stated that Bryant and Seaney were both known to engage in what was referred to throughout the trial as "scare games" involving fire arms, and that Bryant, who had been raised around guns, should have known the risks involved with such behavior.
"You don't have to have used firearms before to know firearms need to be treated with respect," she said.
Bryant was also not under the influence of any alcohol or drugs on the night of the shooting, which Zainea said suggested Bryant was "capable of weighing the consequences of his actions." Zainea also stated that Bryant had not accepted responsibility for his actions.
"He has regret because his conduct now lands him in the position he finds himself in today," she said.
Zainea agreed with the defense's position that Bryant's age and his lack of a criminal record were factors the court should consider in Bryant's favor.
In making his determination, Murray said the conclusion of the sentencing hearing would not bring an end to the suffering that all involved in the case have endured.
"Perfect justice will not be attained here this afternoon," he said. "It cannot be."