Relatives of 23-year-old victim Cody Scott Bryant and defendant Justin Day wiped tears from their eyes as the jury returned a not-guilty verdict Tuesday night in a 2014 accident that ended in tragedy.
On July 20, 2014, Bryant and Day got into an all-terrain Gator vehicle on a Sunday night after drinking and the vehicle dropped off an embankment, hit a tree and a stump and flipped, pinning Bryant on the passenger side.
Bryant diedshortly after the crash. Day has maintained his innocence, saying he was the passenger and not the driver. In 2015, Day was indicted on a charge of capital murder after Kentucky State Police reconstructed the fatal crash and identified Day, then 27, as the driver.
Day, who had left the scene, was questioned by authorities the next day at Frankfort Regional Medical Center with a gash on his back. Franklin County Coroner Will Harrod said the preliminary cause of Bryant’s death was multiple blunt-force trauma.
About 40 people, including relatives of both men, filled the courtroom for the trial earlier in the day as jurors heard testimony.
The jury found Day not guilty of murder, second-degree manslaughter or reckless homicide. In capital cases, defendants are eligible for the death penalty or life imprisonment.
“This was a tragic accident, and it’s not lost on us or Justin that he lost a good friend,” defense attorney Kevin Fox said. “Ms. Bryant, her family, lost a son, they lost a brother. No one is really a winner in this situation. Justin is happy this matter is finally going to be put behind him. It’s been going on for almost three years, and we are just happy the jury believed the story he’s been saying from the very beginning — that he’s maintained his innocence.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Larry Cleveland held to the state police reconstruction of the accident that found Day to be the driver. Both the defense and the prosecution agreed that Day left the crash to get another friend to remove Bryant from beneath the Gator as Day lifted it up.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s not unexpected,” Cleveland said. “When we started this case, I didn’t feel we had much of a chance of getting a conviction. The case was tried very well. We got in every piece of evidence we could get in. If we had gotten a conviction, it would’ve been a situation where nobody would’ve been happy on this side of the room because you’ve got a dead young man, you’ve got another young man going to prison — it’s a loss for both sides.”
Bryant’s mother filed a civil lawsuit in 2015 that is pending.