By George Hunter
From The Detroit News
DETROIT—A man who was 16 years old when he gunned down a Detroit Tigers fan outside a downtown restaurant while thousands of people celebrated the team’s 1984 World Series win has been paroled after serving 35 years in prison despite racking up 184 violations, including allegations of sexual misconduct and assaulting staff.
The Oct. 14, 1984, killing of 27-year-old Ypsilanti microbiologist Raymond Dobrzynski, which happened outside the Lafayette Coney Island amid a large, unruly crowd of celebrants, made national headlines. William Bryant was charged as an adult and sentenced in 1986 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Because of the 2012 Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama, which held that mandatory life sentences are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders, Bryant, now 53, was re-sentenced on Nov. 19, 2020, to 40 to 80 years in prison by Wayne Circuit Judge Shannon Walker.
Bryant became eligible for parole on Nov. 25 and was released five days later, Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz said.
“He had 184 misconducts during his time in prison, which began in 1986,” Gautz said in an email. “(The offenses included) theft, sexual misconduct, assaulting staff, smuggling, threatening behavior, insolence, disobeying direct order, (and) possessing dangerous contraband.”
State records indicate Bryant was released to Arizona and will remain on parole until November 2023. Including his time in jail, he was credited with serving 36 years and 11 months.
Carl Dobrzynski, Raymond’s father, said of the decision to parole Bryant: “Of course, this is devastating to our family. … I’ll be frank, I’m a life for a life kind of guy. He shot my son in the back because he wouldn’t give up his car.”
Bryant’s attorney, Tina Olsen of the State Appellate Defender Office, said in an email: “It’s worth noting that our so-called ‘juvenile lifer’ clients are some of the safest individuals one can release into society. They have an incredibly low recidivism rate and they successfully re-integrate into society.”
Olsen added: “While I can’t speak to the specifics of Mr. Bryant’s prison record, I would caution that ‘misconducts’ in prison are not the same as criminal convictions, nor by any means held to the same standard of proof. And these are taken into account by the Parole Board as appropriate.”
Efforts to reach Bryant directly were unsuccessful.
Raymond Dobrzynski, an avid baseball fan who worked at Difco Laboratories near Tiger Stadium, was unable to get a ticket to Game 5 of the World Series, so after the Tigers beat the San Diego Padres 8–4 to clinch the World Championship, he headed downtown to join the party, his father said.
“He was a big Tiger fan, and he wanted to be downtown to celebrate,” said Carl Dobrzynski, 93. “He was supposed to meet up with some buddies down there.”
The celebration turned ugly, sparking one of the most infamous incidents in Detroit history. Fans overturned a Checker Cab before flipping two TV news vans and a Detroit Police squad car, which they set on fire. Three women reported being raped. Police made 42 arrests, while members of the national media stood on the Tiger Stadium ramp overlooking Michigan Avenue watching the riot unfold on the street below.
Several blocks east, just before midnight, Raymond Dobrzynski found a parking spot in front of Lafayette Coney Island, his favorite stop after Tigers games. He ducked into the restaurant and emerged with a bag of coney dogs, according to Detroit News archives.
Dobrzynski got back in his vehicle, and Bryant, who was with five companions, approached and attempted to yank him out the car window, police said. During the struggle, Bryant fired his .38 revolver once, striking the Michigan State University graduate in the back, police said.
“Downtown streets were packed with revelers at the time of the murder,” The News reported at the time.
Dobrzynski was pronounced dead on arrival at a Detroit hospital. The killing was one of 514 homicides in Detroit in 1984.
The victims’ parents and The News offered a combined $4,000 reward for information leading to the killer’s arrest. Police appealed to the thousands of potential witnesses to the shooting, and several came forward.
Bryant, who had been arrested four days after Dobrzynski’s death and was being held in the former Wayne County Youth Home on an unrelated case, was charged as an adult in Dobrzynski’s killing.
During the two-day bench trial before Recorder’s Court Judge Vera Massey-Jones, Bryant’s friends testified that they saw him shoot Dobrzynski, and that they heard Bryant bragging earlier in the day that he planned to steal a car.
Massey-Jones, who is currently a Wayne circuit judge after Recorder’s Court merged with the circuit court in 1997, took less than an hour to find Bryant guilty. She sentenced him to life in prison without parole.
“(Dobrzynski) was shot simply because he would not get out of his own car,” she said during a Jan. 28, 1986, hearing. “No circumstance could justify this crime. While others went downtown to enjoy a celebration, Bryant went to get a car.”
Bryant was 17 years old when he began his prison sentence in February 1986. Although he wasn’t a model prisoner, the 2012 Supreme Court decision allowed him to be resentenced, Gautz said.
“He was a juvenile lifer, so because of the Supreme Court ruling, he was one of the (inmates) that had to be re-sentenced,” Gautz said. “He became eligible (on Nov. 25) for parole based on that re-sentencing and he was paroled on 11/30/21.”
Carl Dobrzynski said he had heard Bryant was eligible for parole because of the Supreme Court ruling but didn’t know he’d been released until he was informed by a reporter for The News.
“When I tell the family, they’re going to be disappointed,” Dobrzynski said.
Dobrzynski said his son was a “very intelligent boy.”
“He was into medical research; he wanted to work on medicine to save lives,” he said.
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