BELFAST, Maine — A Waldo County man convicted in 2012 of manslaughter for the shooting death of his friend was not successful in his effort to appeal the judgment against him, according to a decision handed down Tuesday by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Luke Bryant, 22, was sentenced to 15 years in prison with all but nine years suspended for the 2011 death of 19-year-old Tyler Seaney at Bryant’s apartment on a remote country road in Knox. Bryant appealed his conviction because he believed that the court should have suppressed statements he made to police after the shooting, defense attorney Steven Peterson told the justices on the state’s highest court in April.
Those statements included his admitting that he played a controversial “scare game,” during which Bryant and Seaney would point and fire guns they thought were not loaded at each other in order to startle the other person.
“The police were going to get what they could from him,” Peterson told the law court during his April arguments on his client’s appeal, adding that Bryant’s statements were made during an interrogation without the benefit of Miranda warnings, and that his client was in a state of shock and extreme distress that made his statements involuntary.
But the law court disagreed. The justices found that after Seaney’s death, Bryant was not in police custody at any point during an interview conducted by a Waldo County Sheriff’s Office detective in Bryant’s own bedroom, another interview in a police cruiser with two detectives or a walk-through reenactment of the shooting in the apartment.
“Throughout the interviews, the detectives repeatedly asked Bryant’s permission to speak with him, and Bryant repeatedly consented,” Justice Warren Silver wrote in the court’s decision. “The detectives did not physically restrain Bryant, and they repeatedly told Bryant that he was not under arrest and was free to terminate the conversation and leave at any time.”
Silver wrote that evidence shows both detectives and Bryant were calm and non-confrontational throughout the whole encounter, which took place either in or just outside Bryant’s home.
“Bryant’s assertion that the detectives ‘badgered’ him into returning to the apartment to conduct the walk-through is not supported by competent evidence,” Silver wrote. “Bryant displayed an eagerness to assist the detectives in their investigation.”
Silver wrote that the justices had to consider circumstances including the duration and location of the interrogation and the defendant’s age, mental health and emotional stability when they considered Bryant’s assertion that his statements were involuntary because he made them while in a state of shock and emotionally distress.
“Bryant remained calm and composed throughout the interviews with the detectives and provided responsive and focused answers to their questions,” Silver wrote. “The totality of the circumstances demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that Bryant’s statements were the free choice of a rational mind, were fundamentally fair and were not a product of coercive police conduct.”