Bryan found guilty of attempted murder, sentenced to 30 years

loberle@islandpacket.comMay 21, 2014 

Shayla Jerea Bryan showed no emotion as Circuit Court Judge Maite Murphy announced her verdict Wednesday.

But her mother cried out as her daughter was escorted out of the courtroom in shackles.

Bryan was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison after a three-day bench trial at the Beaufort County Courthouse. The 24 year old was convicted of stabbing and beating her 3-year-old daughter, Dionna Hagood, before throwing her from the balcony of a third-story stairwell at the Cross Creek Apartment Complex off Ambrose Run on Dec. 19, 2011.

"This was one of the most brutal examples of child abuse I've ever seen," 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said after the verdict was announced.

Bryan's 30-year sentence is the maximum allowed under South Carolina law. She must serve 85 percent of that sentence -- 25 1/2 years -- before being eligible for parole, according to Solicitor's Office spokesman Daniel Brownstein.


Dr. Anne Abel, a pediatrician who specializes in child-abuse pediatrics, treated Dionna when she arrived at the Medical University of South Carolina on the night of the assault.

Abel testified Tuesday that Dionna had multiple skull fractures, bleeding and bruising of the brain tissue, subdural bleeding, internal bleeding, a liver laceration and multiple skin cuts.

Bryan's attorney, Charles Russell Keep III of Hilton Head Island, argued Wednesday his client was not criminally responsible for her actions because she was psychotic at the time. An attempt after Wednesday's verdict to reach Keep was unsuccessful.

Dr. Ana Gomez, a psychiatrist who treated Bryan after the incident, testified Bryan was experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, such as psychosis, that impaired her thinking.

Gomez's supervisor, Dr. Leonard Mulbry, also testified Wednesday that Bryan suffered from a mental illness of some sort. However, he said there was not enough evidence to diagnose her as schizophrenic.

Stone argued that it mattered only whether Bryan understood the difference between right and wrong when she assaulted her child, and pointed to her video-taped confession with Beaufort Police as proof she did.

"I understand what I did was wrong," Bryan said on the tape, which was replayed during the trial.

"I knew I'd made a mistake," she said at one point. "I won't be forgiven for this," she predicted at another.

Dr. Jesse Raley, a psychiatrist who did not treat Bryan but reviewed the evidence in the case, testified that he did not see symptoms of psychosis when Bryan was interrogated.

Raley added that an important indicator in determining whether someone knew their actions were wrong is whether the suspect avoids detection, which Bryan did when she concocted a series of stories before confessing.

"That shows she was thinking though the lie, that she was coming up with a way to get out of it," Raley said. "The great lengths she went to try and conceal what happened shows she knew the difference between right and wrong."

When Bryan confessed nearly four hours into her interrogation that she tried to kill her daughter, she said the devil came over her.

"If there were delusions like that, the vast majority of the time that would be the first statement they made," Raley said.


Bryan's mother, Lavonia Bryan, now has custody of the child and testified Tuesday the girl is happy, healthy,and misses her mother.

Bryan's mother, father, aunt and cousin were among the dozen friends and relatives in the courtroom Wednesday. They left without speaking to reporters.

Dionna was not in the courtroom; nor was her father, Dion Hagood.

"The outcome was exactly what it should have been," Stone said. "I think she deserved every bit of the maximum sentence. I never thought that she was insane.

"I always thought, and I think it's clear now, that she was just mean."

Follow reporter Laura Oberle at

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