Almost a decade after Shayla Jerea Bryan was found guilty in 2014 of brutally beating, stabbing, and throwing her then 3-year-old daughter from a third-floor balcony, she was recently found innocent by reason of insanity.
The verdict was made on Monday, which means that any further decisions made for Bryan “must be therapeutic in nature, not punitive,” according to South Carolina Code of Laws.
The Island Packet reported that an examination will need to be carried out at the SC Department of Mental Health to see if Bryan needs to be hospitalized involuntarily. If she does not need to be hospitalized, a judge can rule to release Bryan to the public.
If she is released, the state can still implement therapeutic release requirement, such as mandatory medication and psychiatric evaluations.
Bryan was initially found guilty of attempted murder in May 2014. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison following a three-day bench trial at the Beaufort County Courthouse. After appealing several times, she was granted a retrial in April 2023 through the post-conviction relief process.
Legal experts have noted that these appeals are common, but it is not common to see a retrial through PCR.
Dr. Pamela Crawford, Bryan’s longtime psychiatrist, testified in March that Bryan suffered from schizoaffective disorder, which likely prevented her from understanding the difference between right and wrong. And this was the defense used for Bryan, who attacked her toddler in December 2011.
The report noted that because Bryan’s psychiatric incidents occurred throughout her time in prison—where illegal drugs were not an option—it was apparently reasonable to conclude that her attack on the 3-year-old was the consequence of a psychotic break.
The new ruling was determined by Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Bonds.
Bryan’s 3-year-old daughter, Dionna Hagood, was in the bathtub on the night of December 19, 2011, when Bryan started hitting and stabbing her.
Bryan confessed to the horrific attack halfway through an eight-hour interrogation with Beaufort police after the arrest.
“The devil came across me,” she said. “I didn’t want my child to be in this world.”
Bryan then threw her daughter from a third-floor balcony. She hurried down the stairs to retrieve her, and then knocked on a neighbor’s door while holding the unconscious toddler. The small child suffered multiple skull fractures, subdural bleeding, and bruised brain tissue.
While the child did survive the attack, she underwent a red blood cell transfusion and a crowd-funded rehabilitation program to regain bodily function.
The girl’s grandmother, Lavonia Bryan, took custody of the toddler after she was released from the hospital.
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