He called it the best day of his life. An hour after he was officially released from custody, David John Ryan was all smiles as he faced reporters with a new lease on life.
“It feels good to be out of jail,” Ryan said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet, actually.”
It was the first time in almost seven years the 51-year-old had tasted freedom.
Ryan has been behind bars since 2005, when he was arrested and charged with beating 29-year-old Richard Brace to death in Carbonear.
In May 2007, a jury found Ryan guilty of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 16 years.
But on Friday, Ryan had his handcuffs and shackles taken off, having been granted bail at the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal in St. John’s.
After Ryan’s lawyer, Bob Buckingham, and Crown prosecutor Steve Dawson negotiated release conditions, Chief Justice Derek Green granted Ryan judicial interim release.
It came three weeks after Ryan’s conviction and sentence were overturned by a Court of Appeal panel, which ordered Ryan get a new trial.
The panel concluded Justice Kendra Goulding should have declared a mistrial at Ryan’s trial, in which he represented himself.
It said there was a miscarriage of justice, since Ryan did not have the ability nor the understanding of the complex legal issues to conduct his own defence.
In a hearing, held in the fall of 2010, Buckingham argued Ryan, who has a Grade 7 education, was “in over his head” against two experienced Crown prosecutors.
“The day I found out (we won the appeal), my parole officer called me up,” said Ryan, who met reporters at Buckingham’s downtown office.
“He said, ‘You’re going back to Newfoundland. You won your appeal.’ I said, ‘This is not an April’s Fool joke, is it?’ He said ‘No, it’s not.’
“I was more stunned than anything.”
Ryan then turned to his lawyer and added, “This man, Mr. Bob Buckingham, gave me my life back.”
Ryan said the thoughts of winning his appeal consumed him while behind bars at the Atlantic Institution in Renous, N.B.
“It took a toll on me,” he said. “I was thinking about stuff — why I’m here and what happened.”
He looks back at his trial and said representing himself was the hardest thing he’d ever done, but said he had no other choice. When he refused legal aid representation, Ryan said the courts would not allow him the lawyer he wanted.
Government has since changed that rule, granting those accused of murder the choice of private counsel.
But what bothers him the most, he said, are thoughts of Brace.
“He was my friend …” Ryan said quietly, lowering his head.
“I wish I could bring him back. If I had one wish, that would be the wish I’d want. He was a nice person.”
Brace, of Green’s Harbour, died in July 2005, after he was savagely attacked as he lay in bed at Ryan’s house in Carbonear.
Two other people — a male youth and Ashley Wheadon — were also charged in connection with the incident.
The youth was convicted in 2008 of manslaughter and got a three-year youth term, which was served at the Whitbourne youth facility.
Wheadon pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was given a two-year condition sentence in 2008.
During her sentencing, Wheadon admitted she encouraged Ryan and the youth to attack Brace.
With Wheadon screaming to incite the beating, she said the men punched and kicked Brace repeatedly. She had been upset with Brace, suspecting he had cheated on her and stolen $35 of her money.
Brace was found by a woman visiting the house the next morning.
He was barely breathing.
He was declared brain dead at hospital and died three days later of a hemorrhage.
Under Buckingham’s advice, Ryan wouldn’t speak about the incident, but said he was wrongly convicted.
He said he was a different man back then, with a serious alcohol addiction.
“I figured a drink or a beer would solve everything, but it don’t solve anything. It makes it worse,” said Ryan, who is originally from Cupid’s Crossing, Conception Bay.
When asked if the public has any reason to worry about his release, Ryan said, “They got no reason to be concerned … I’ve got to try and move ahead and that’s what I’m doing right now.”
Ryan has to adhere to some strict conditions while out of jail.
They include that he report to the RCMP twice a week, reside at the Wiseman Centre and abstain from alcohol and non-prescription drugs. He must stay away from any establishment where alcohol is the primary item sold, can’t have any weapons or leave the province.
He also can’t have any contact or communication with witnesses from the trial, the two co-accused or Brace’s family members.
Ryan said he plans to take it easy for the next few weeks, but hopes to get a job soon.
“I don’t like lying around and doing nothing. I’m always doing something,” said Ryan, who plans to attend Alcoholics Anonymous.
But he’s not completely free yet.
Ryan will be arraigned at Newfoundland Supreme Court April 1 and has to prepare for another trial.
But he feels confident this time, with Buckingham as his lawyer.
He said the first thing he plans to do as a free man is get Ches’s fish and chips.
Buckingham said people should have no worries with Ryan free.
“The only thing the public should be concerned about,” he said, “is that the real murderers are still walking the streets.”
Please note that this story was changed to correct a small error