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Clifton man convicted of wife's 1985 murder speaks after being released on parole

Bryan walked out of prison and into freedom for the first time in three decades Tuesday.

CLIFTON, Texas — Joe Bryan, the former Clifton High School Principal convicted of killing his wife Mickey in 1985, was released on parole Tuesday. He spoke with 6 News Anchor Leslie Draffin about his time behind bars and how his faith in God helped him stay positive in prison.

Bryan walked out of prison and into freedom for the first time in three decades.

“You dream about this for 34 to 35 years, and even the day that it’s happening you think, ‘This is not really happening.’ And then you walk out, and you see your family and you know it is, and it's absolutely amazing,” Bryan said over the phone, talking from his family’s home near Houston.

Bryan was convicted of killing his wife, Mickey, a Clifton school teacher, in 1985. He has always maintained his innocence and said he was at a convention in Austin when Mickey was shot in their Clifton home. 

Prosecutors never found a clear motive, and he was convicted largely on bloodstain pattern analysis done on a flashlight found in Bryan’s car several days after Mickey’s murder. That analysis has come into question in recent years and Bryan’s defense team continues working to prove his innocence.

Bryan, who is 79 years old now, said he got through the years in prison by playing the piano and focusing on his faith in God. 

“When I first came in, I was angry with God. I was mad at the world. I didn't understand what had happened and why it had happened, I just knew that I was innocent and here I was going to have to be in prison for something I didn't do. And you go through all the shame, humiliation, embarrassment, of all that happening to you plus my family was experiencing all this with me too. And when I got to where I couldn't deal with it without going bonkers, I just said, ‘God you have to help me, I can't do this by myself.’ And he was with me,” Bryan explained.

Bryan’s family has stood by him and helped him fight ever since he was first convicted in 1986. Now, they’re back together again. 

Bryan said he slept through the night peacefully for the first time in decades and described the bed, “Like sleeping on clouds.” Even though there’s been the threat of coronavirus, Bryan and his supporters freely hugged outside the Huntsville jail where he spent most of his sentence.

Bryan found out he’d been granted parole about two weeks ago and originally thought he’d have to wait 30 to 45 days to be released. Instead, he was out on Tuesday, much to his surprise and relief. 

Bryan’s appeal for a new trial was denied by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in January 2020. Even though Bryan is out now, his defense team continues working on the case. They’re in the process now of petitioning the Supreme Court for relief.

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