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New Trial for Santa Monica Man Convicted of Murdering Friend

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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

December 15, 2016 -- A Santa Monica man convicted of second-degree murder in 2014 for killing his friend at a historic downtown apartment will get a second chance to convince a jury he isn't guilty.

Ryan Taylor Bright, 30, had been sentenced to 16 years to life for the 2012 fatal stabbing of Gray Jensen during a night of excessive drinking at the former hotel.

But on Wednesday, a three-judge panel from the California Court of Appeal's 2nd District unanimously ruled that the trial judge had not thoroughly investigated how a juror's research of the difference between "murder" and "manslaughter" may have influenced the rest of the jury.

Jurors are instructed not to do outside research.

A juror admitted to Judge James R. Dabney during the trial that he had researched the penal code "to get a better understanding of the issues."

That juror was dismissed. Judge Dabney then investigated the matter, but not well enough for the appellate panel.

"Without a more complete inquiry as to what information [the juror] actually shared with the rest of the jury, we cannot say with confidence his discharge and the court's general admonition to the jury not to consider sentencing were sufficient to cure the taint caused by the misconduct," Presiding Justice Dennis M. Perluss wrote.

Court records say Bright stabbed Jensen, his friend since middle school, six times with a pocket knife in July 2012. Bright's blood-alcohol level was reported to have been in excess of .3, a level that is considered life threatening.

Bright testified he had acted in self defense, and that the aggressors were Jensen and Bright's girlfriend, who Bright had been accused of grabbing "by the neck with enough force to lift her off her feet."

Jensen and Bright had a physical fight earlier in the night at Bright's apartment, located at 425 Broadway. Police came to the apartment at 1 a.m. and found no weapon on Bright, who left after that, according to court records.

Court records say Bright returned two hours later, and another fight began that ended with the fatality.

Bright was arrested almost immediately after the incident when he walked out of the apartment. The knife was found later in the morning under a homeless man sleeping in the breezeway.

The Art Deco apartment complex where the incident took place was built in 1931 as the Lido Hotel.

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