A June 16 ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dealt a likely fatal blow to a Northeast family’s 24-year quest for justice. The high court affirmed a lower court ruling that overturned a death sentence for the man who murdered Police Officer Daniel Boyle in 1991.
As a result, Edward Bracey will be integrated into general population at Graterford Prison to serve out his life sentence. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office does not plan to appeal last week’s Supreme Court decision, which upheld a ruling in January by Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina that the killer was “intellectually disabled” and could not be put to death for his crimes.
“We had every hope in the world that they would do the right thing and overturn a ridiculous and silly opinion,” Pat Boyle, the slain officer’s father, said of the high court. “His mental capacity is every bit as good as yours or mine. (Defense attorneys) just use this as an excuse to get people off of death row.”
The U.S. Supreme Court found in 2002, almost a dozen years after the murder and long after the trial and sentencing, that executing the intellectually disabled is unconstitutional. The DA’s office and Boyle’s surviving family have no problem with that precedent. However, they contend that Sarmina’s underlying ruling was wrong.
Indeed, during post-conviction proceedings in 1998, expert witnesses retained by Bracey’s own lawyers testified that he had an I.Q. of 75, which would place him at a “borderline” level, but not necessarily intellectually disabled. Sarmina vacated Bracey’s death sentence in January after hearing four days of testimony.
“The recent Supreme Court decision on the state of Mr. Bracey’s mental health rested on the facts of this case, and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office doesn’t have an issue with that ruling. But Judge Sarmina’s past ruling was illogical based on the earlier hearings,” a spokesman for the DA’s office said. “And so, as of today, it’s very unlikely that the office will appeal the decision.”
“He had enough sense to plan and execute his crime wave,” said Pat Boyle, a retired police lieutenant who served 35 years on the force.
Danny Boyle, 21, had been on the force for just seven months when Bracey shot and killed him on Feb. 4, 1991, at Eighth Street and Germantown Avenue. Bracey, then 27, and two other men had been riding around North Philadelphia in a stolen car looking for street-corner drug dealers to rob. When the officer tried to stop the suspicious car, Bracey drove through a gas station lot and crashed into a rowhouse.
After Boyle pulled up to the crash site, Bracey jumped onto the hood of the police car, pointed a gun at Boyle and demanded that the officer surrender his gun. As Boyle shifted into reverse, Bracey fired a hail of bullets at the officer, striking him fatally in the temple. Boyle, a Somerton native and Archbishop Ryan High School graduate, died two days later.
“I understand the chances of this guy ever being put to death for Danny’s killing were slim and none. And this governor (Tom Wolf) certainly didn’t help anything. He was not going to sign a death warrant,” Pat Boyle said. “But now (Bracey) gets rights and privileges, whatever any other lifer might get. It’s sure more than he had on death row. I think that’s unfair.’”
Pat Boyle said that his family and friends will continue to pay tribute to Officer Boyle’s memory through a scholarship fund for less-fortunate students.
“His memory will live and this guy will be forgotten hopefully,” Pat Boyle said. ••