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Judge orders new trial in case of slain toddler after state witness says he lied

St. Joseph County Courthouse
St. Joseph County Courthouse

A St. Joseph County judge has ordered a new trial for a man convicted of murder for his role in a shooting that killed a 2-year-old child.

Now, 25-year-old Tyre Bradbury will get a second chance to argue his case in front a jury after he allegedly brought guns to a fight between gang members at Coquillard Park in 2014.

Judge Elizabeth Hurley this month, ruled Bradbury has discovered new evidence suggesting a key witness for the state may have lied during the original trial.

Stray bullet

In April of 2014, a group of young men belonging to rival groups got into a fight at Coquillard Park. Tyre Bradbury, who was 15-years-old at the time was involved, as was another juvenile Larry Bobbit. The two groups met at the park the next day to resume hostilities, but Bradbury brought two guns, which he gave to two of his companions.

One of those companions, Robert Griffin, fired shots during the exchange and though he missed Bobbit, the bullet traveled nearly four football fields and struck 2-year-old John Swoveland Jr. who was playing in his front yard and was killed.

Multiple people were charged for their roles in the shooting, including Bradbury, who was charged with murder as an accomplice. Bradbury was convicted and eventually sentenced to 60 years in prison.

"This case was kind of crazy. [Bradbury] was arrested when he was 15 years old," said John Chenoweth, Bradbury's attorney. "He's had an odyssey with all the post-convictions and appeals and all that."

New trial

Since he was convicted in 2016, Bradbury has explored multiple avenues of having his conviction overturned. In an appeal, he argued his trial attorneys were ineffective for going with an "all or nothing" trial strategy of refusing to to allow jurors to consider a lesser sentence of reckless homicide.

The state court of appeals voted 2-1 to overturn the conviction based on those grounds, but the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the original conviction in another divided ruling. Bradbury even attempted to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear the case, but the court didn't take it up.

More recently, an attorney representing Bradbury contacted one of the witnesses in Bradbury's original trial — a man named Terrance Peterson. Peterson testified for the state in the case, saying he had shared a jail cell with Bradbury leading up to the original trial and that Bradbury had expressed guilt to him about the shooting.

Peterson's testimony went to a key issue at the trial of whether Bradbury knew Griffin was going to shoot the gun Bradbury had brought him. Both Bradbury and Larry Bobbit, who was being shot at, testified that Bradbury told Griffin not to shoot in the moments before gunfire erupted. Peterson, however, said Bradbury confessed that Bobbit was going to lie for him on the stand, casting Bobbit's testimony in doubt.

"His testimony was really critical to the state's case," Chenoweth said. "The state's case was also very thin, always circumstantial. ... It took it from fairly thin to fairly solid if you believe what Terrance Peterson was saying."

When contacted in June 2022, however, Peterson told Bradbury's lawyer that he lied and was fed information at the original trial. Bradbury's attorneys have attempted to get Peterson to testify to that at subsequent hearings, but Peterson has refused, pleading the 5th Amendment's right against self-incrimination, as confessing to lying at the original trial could open himself up to perjury charges now.

Bradbury also argues prosecutors promised to reduce Peterson's jail time if he testified against Bradbury and didn't disclose that fact at trial. The lead prosecutor on the case, Chris Fronk, testified in May this year that no promises were made at the time, though the state did eventually modify Peterson's sentence in exchange for his testimony in another murder case.

Court records show Peterson pleaded guilty to one count of armed robbery in 2014 and given 14 years in prison. In 2016, he was released from prison at the request of St. Joseph County prosecutors with the remainder of his time changed to probation.

In his testimony, Fronk said law enforcement eventually stopped using Peterson as a witness because he would try to pry information out of his fellow inmates, leading to thorny legal issues of whether that information would be usable at trial.

Staff for the St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter did not indicate on Monday whether he or Fronk would be willing to speak with reporters about the case.

In granting a new trial for Bradbury, judge Hurley found Peterson's letters saying he lied would be admissible at a new trial, since Peterson knew they could open him up for perjury charges. A jury, Hurley wrote, should have the chance to reevaluate the credibility of the witnesses involved in light of the new comments, even if Peterson wouldn't take the stand again at the new trial.

Hurley did not find there to be prosecutorial misconduct, as Bradbury claimed, with Fronk and investigators who worked the case, denying they gave Peterson any promises or information.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.