Danny Ray Pittman was in tears more than a year ago when he confessed to beating his girlfriend and her son nearly to death, leaving them lying in pools of their own blood.
He clutched a Kleenex. He cried loudly. His lawyer blamed the attack on a cocktail of drugs – heroin, cocaine, hydrocodone and Xanax — swirling in Pittman’s system at the time.
In front of a judge, Pittman said he was clean and sober. He said he was sorry.
Now, he’s asking for a new trial.
On Wednesday, Pittman, 34, will appear before a judge in York County and present evidence, give testimony and possibly call witnesses in an effort to gain a lesser sentence.
The court session is a post-conviction relief hearing, which allows convicted prisoners to claim their lawyers failed to adequately defend them. Pittman, according to legal documents he filed, blames his 25-year sentence on his lawyer, 16th Circuit Public Defender Harry Dest, who he claims ineffectively represented him.
He also says he has gained nothing by pleading guilty, and alleges a “breach” in his plea agreement because he is still serving the maximum sentence on his charges. Before entering his plea, he faced a maximum 25 years in prison. After his plea, he was sentenced to 25 years behind bars.
“I am seeking the 8-10 years my lawyer was asking for until he became ineffective,” Pittman writes.
Pittman, in documents, argues that he did not cause “these mental problems and the speech impairment” and the migraines that his victims suffered after the assault. In a letter to his current attorney, he writes: “I believe that I have very good issues that can be brought to light upon paying attention to the details and the framework of the plea that I took...”
Pittman’s request was filed months after he appealed his conviction based on allegations that the court abused its discretion when sentencing him. The appeal was denied by the state Court of Appeals.
On Feb. 1, 2012, York County Sheriff’s deputies were sent to an Elder Road home in Rock Hill after receiving a call from an 11-year-old girl who said her mother was bleeding from her head.
Authorities found Kimberly Dawn Faile-Bryant, then 35, badly beaten in her bed, suffering from a head injury. Her 16-year-old son, Christopher Faile, was found outside on the ground, barely conscious and bloody.
Mother and son were airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, where for a week they underwent surgical procedures to restore fractured skulls and stop brain bleeding.
After the attack, deputies noticed Faile-Bryant’s Kia Sorento was missing. A day later, police found the car, and Pittman, in an Horry County mobile park. He admitted to deputies that he stole the car, but not to beating Faile and Faile-Bryant.
Deputies swabbed his clothes for evidence. Christopher Faile’s blood was found on the same shoe, jeans and jacket Pittman wore during the alleged assault. Pittman did not change clothes before his arrest.
After an initial memory lapse, Faile-Bryant told deputies that her daughter, son and Pittman were the only people in the house that night. Later, she told authorities she remembered Pittman standing over her.
Deputies also discovered that Pittman sent the younger Faile a text message asking the teen to help him feed the dogs. Once outside, Pittman assaulted Faile with a baseball bat, according to medical records subpoenaed by prosecutors. Authorities were never able to find blood or tissue on the bat and surmised that Pittman used his hands in the beating.
Pittman was charged with two counts of attempted murder and grand larceny. He remained in jail for 315 days before he appeared in front of Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles in December 2012. He pleaded guilty to assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, a lesser charge and the only deal prosecutors brokered with him.
In court, Dest, Pittman’s lawyer, asked the judge to show mercy. He said Pittman, a carpenter and father, was incredulous that he had actually hurt Faile-Bryant and her son, Christopher.
He would tell Dest: “I can’t believe I did this. I can’t believe I did this, but I know I did.”
“I am a changed man,” Pittman said at that hearing. “Please know, I am not a savage or threat to society.”
Pittman maintained that he did not remember the assault. Still, he pleaded guilty. The judge told him he appeared sorry. The judge also told him his actions deserved punishment.
He was sent to prison without the chance of parole. He has been moved to six different facilities within the state Department of Corrections because of other issues with inmates, said Clark Newsom, corrections spokesman. He is currently housed at the Lee Correctional Institution.
After he was accused of damaging jail property in November, his canteen, telephone and visitation privileges were revoked for 180 days. In September, he appeared before a judge in Chester County to plead guilty to second-degree assault and battery in connection with a 2010 incident in which a woman claimed her boyfriend, who she identified as Pittman, punched her and a friend who tried to intervene, according to police records.
Deputies found both victims with bloody faces, and the friend suffered from a broken jaw that later also required him to undergo oral surgery, records show. Pittman ran into the woods, but was later served with warrants in March 2011.
On Wednesday, Pittman will return to York County, tasked with proving that his lawyer’s alleged deficient performance resulted in his sentence.
Rutledge Johnson, an assistant of the state Attorney General’s Office, will present arguments why Pittman’s request for post-conviction relief should be denied.
Johnson declined to discuss the case, aside from saying he plans to call Dest as a witness. Pittman’s current attorney, Charlotte lawyer Mike Hemlepp, will have the opportunity to cross-examine him. Hemlepp and Dest could not be reached for comment last week.
“The only remedy is a new trial,” Johnson said, adding that if a judge agrees Pittman should get a new trial, he will face all his original charges again.
“There’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “You can get more time or you can get less time. You can be found not guilty or they can take it to trial and (defendants) get more time than they got (before).”
A new trial would nullify Pittman’s plea and any benefits that came with it, Johnson said.
There haven’t been many benefits for Faile-Bryant and her family.
Nearly two years later, both Faile-Bryant and her son continue to suffer from memory loss, said Ashley Barnette, Faile-Bryant’s longtime friend.
Victims do not testify during PCR hearings, but can attend, Johnson said. Faile-Bryant will be there. Barnette will be at her side.
Faile-Bryant did not want to comment directly, but asked that Barnette speak on her behalf.
“As a victim, (Faile-Bryant) can’t appeal that 25 years, but (Pittman) can,” Barnette said. “How is that justice? How is that fair?”
Faile-Bryant and her son both have steel plates in their heads that essentially “hold their skulls together,” she said. They have intense headaches that Aleve and other aspirin won’t dull. Sometimes, the headaches are so overwhelming they keep Faile-Bryant awake at night.
“She has a hard time concentrating on stuff,” Barnette said. “Being a strong, independent woman and all that happening, that’s a big self-esteem issue” for her friend.
Faile-Bryant is 90 percent deaf in her left ear, so Barnette has to always approach and speak to her from the right side, she said.
Stephanie Faile-Bryant, the little girl who was hailed a hero when she dialed 911 after finding her mother bleeding in her bed, is now a teenager, Barnette said. Life was returning to normal for the girl. After Faile-Bryant received a letter that Pittman wanted a new trial, the girl has returned to sleeping in her mother’s bed. Pittman’s face haunts her nightmares.
“Our (criminal justice) system, they get an E for effort,” said Barnette, daughter of a local judge. “I know the court system’s slammed; the probation and parole offices are slammed. A lot of people don’t get sentences like they should.”
Faile-Bryant isn’t the same after the attack, her friend said. Everything about the ordeal has been difficult, with one exception.
While in the hospital, she developed a taste for a beverage she previously hated.
She tells Barnette: “The only positive thing that has come out of this is that I have learned that I love strawberry milkshakes.”
Jonathan McFadden • 803-329-4082