Quentin Wyche, 31, served nine years in prison for second-degree murder for a homicide he says was committed in self-defense. He was released to his home and his family in DeLand on July 30.
The Beacon is following Wyche’s story as he attempts to overturn his sentence and clear his name.
The Case of Quentin Wyche, Part 2: An ‘unspecified confrontation’
On a spring evening in Miami, a pool of blood cooled outside the recreation center at Florida International University. Star FIU football player Kendall Berry, 22, was dead of a stab wound.
Quentin Wyche, then 22 and the main suspect, turned himself in the next day, March 26, 2010.
The police report called the encounter between Berry and Wyche an “unspecified confrontation.” As to exactly what happened — there, the witnesses disagreed.
By the time of Wyche’s trial three years later, there were no longer the “true facts” of the day, only conflicting statements made to the police and in depositions. Contradictions continued throughout the trial.
Even the pretrial judge could not know.
“Did Berry, or Berry and his companions, hunt Wyche down and present him with no choice but to kill or be killed? Or did Wyche arm himself and then turn upon Berry at a time when Berry had broken off the chase, or was at worst offering a reprise of the chest-pounding in which the two young men had engaged at the outset of their conflict? The record does not tell me. I can draw no conclusion,” Judge Milton Hirsch wrote, in ruling that only a jury, not a pretrial motion, could decide Wyche’s fate.
Wyche’s attorney had asked that the case against his client be dismissed based on the stand-your-ground law.
In the witnesses’ disagreements lay the fundamental question at the heart of Wyche’s 2013 trial.
Was it murder? Or had Wyche, in fear for his life, defended himself?
A long wait
It would take three years for the case to come to trial. Documents show that witnesses — many of them students from somewhere other than Miami who had since moved on — were hard to locate.
At one point, the State Attorney’s Office dropped the charges against Wyche, but refiled them soon after.
The incident that led to Berry’s death on the night of March 25 had actually begun much earlier that day, around 1 p.m.
Wyche and Berry’s girlfriend, Regina Johnson, had argued over whether Johnson, a worker with FIU’s student-transportation service, would give Wyche a ride.
The witnesses agreed about that. But whether Johnson hit Wyche during that argument, or Wyche hit Johnson, is unclear.
According to a statement given to police by Johnson at 2:27 a.m. on March 26, after she had identified her boyfriend’s body for police, Wyche had smashed a cookie in his fist and then smashed the cookie in her face after she denied him a ride.
But one of the state’s witnesses, Antwoine Bell — a friend of both Berry and Wyche who had witnessed the argument — testified during trial that Wyche had thrown the cookie, and that Johnson had swung at Wyche.
Either way, it is accepted as fact that Johnson called Berry immediately to tell him that Wyche had bothered her.
Witnesses also agree that Johnson and Berry were outside of the recreation center while Wyche, captain of his intramural basketball team, was playing in the championship game inside.
But as to whether Berry was waiting for Wyche, or simply joking around with his friends, is, again, in dispute.
Bell, the witness to the earlier incident, was sure there would be a fight.
“… I know what happened earlier with the incident with Regina, and then I’d seen how many people was out there. It was a lot of people out there, so I knew what was going to happen,” Bell said at trial.
According to Bell, Berry gestured through the windows of the recreation center for Wyche to come outside.
According to Johnson, it was the other way around. Wyche, from inside, noticed Berry first.
Another witness for the state, Marquis Rolle, denied that Berry was planning to confront Wyche.
“We went there to watch basketball, sir,” Rolle told the defense attorney during cross-examination.
Witnesses again agree that Wyche left the recreation center and headed to the cafeteria with some friends — Anthony Cooper, Gib Jenkins and Garrett Cottom. All three would testify at the trial.
Berry and Wyche met on the path alongside the rec center.
Everyone agrees that Berry was accompanied by at least 10 friends, many of whom were members of the football team, and that many other people were outside that evening.
Everyone also agrees that Wyche and Berry “squared off,” a phrase both Bell and Rolle used in trial.
Wyche was either punched by someone, according to Bell and Jenkins, or not punched, according to Rolle.
Cooper either attempted to interfere with a one-on-one fight and was stopped, according to Rolle, or was attacked by Rolle while trying to protect himself and Wyche, according to Cooper.
It is certain that several fights broke out, and Cooper sustained a hairline fracture of his nose, and a ruptured rotator cuff.
Also agreed is that Wyche broke off and ran back to the entrance of the recreation center, and that Berry followed him. The group, which had broken into a chaotic muddle, was spread out from the site of the initial confrontation to the courtyard in front of the center.
The main witnesses to the initial confrontation between Wyche and Berry — Rolle, Bell, Jenkins, Cottom and Cooper, who all testified — were all too wrapped up in the chaos to clearly see what happened.
Eventually, all the witnesses noticed that Berry was lying on the ground.
Wyche sat silent in the courtroom. On the advice of his attorney, he didn’t take the stand. Also on the advice of counsel, he had never made a statement to police.
The single witness to the details of the moment before Berry fell was FIU student Chidinma Orji.
Orji was a reluctant witness for the state, who appeared concerned that she might have forgotten details over months and then, years. She repeatedly referred to her original police statement, taken in April 2010, during her January 2011 deposition and at the September 2013 trial.
Orji testified at trial that she had been attempting to leave the recreation center when the tumult of people reached the area. She stood at the exit doors, while Wyche and Berry were near the entrance doors close by.
Orji said she saw Wyche stop, break apart a pair of scissors, or attempt to, before turning, confronting Berry, and thrusting toward him. Berry fell.
The scissors were never found.
Witnesses testified that they heard Wyche make threatening statements after Berry fell. Only Orji, toward the end of the trial, would testify that Wyche had made threatening statements to Berry before stabbing him.
One of the most important deciding factors in determining whether an act is self-defense or second-degree murder is whether the assailant made threatening comments before the victim was killed.
If Wyche had made such statements before Berry was stabbed, it could tilt the scales in favor of second-degree murder, which requires the presence of “a depraved mind,” defined as having “ill will, hatred and an evil intent.”
But statements made after Berry was stabbed, however, are open to interpretation. Was Wyche gloating, as the prosecution argued, or attempting to discourage Berry’s friends from attacking him, as the defense argued?
Problems with Orji
Orji’s testimony would be a deciding factor in Wyche’s conviction, and, later, in denying Wyche’s appeals.
But Orji’s police statement, deposition and testimony — taken as a whole — were confusing.
In her original statement to police, Orji said that while Wyche was attempting to break apart the scissors, before the stabbing, he was yelling things, but not at anyone in particular. She told police she was unsure what Wyche had said.
Questioned by police, she answered, “I don’t know. He was just saying stuff like, I’m a get him. Stuff like that. I can’t be sure.”
Orji also said that after Berry fell, “[Wyche] said, You better get your boy because if I didn’t already kill him, I’m going to kill him, or something.”
In her deposition nine months later, Orji quoted Wyche as saying, before Berry fell, the “… usual things people yell in a fight … ‘I’m going to kill you.’” She also said she couldn’t be sure, and didn’t remember the exact words.
In trial, Orji originally testified only about statements Wyche made after the stabbing.
When asked by the defense attorney to be more specific about the post-stabbing statements by Wyche, Orji said, according to the trial transcript, “I don’t know whatever I said before, I don’t remember … I don’t remember the exact words.”
The court took a brief recess so Orji could read her original police statement and refresh her memory.
When court went back in session, Orji testified that Wyche said, after Berry fell, “… if I didn’t already get him, I’m going to get him.”
A few days later, near the end of the trial, Orji was brought back as a rebuttal witness by the state.
During this round of questioning, she testified that she heard Wyche say, before the stabbing, “I’m going to get him; I’m going to kill him.”
She was the last witness to testify.
According to news reports, the jury took one hour to make its decision. They found Wyche guilty of second-degree murder.
At his sentencing, Wyche read aloud in court a letter addressed to Kendall Berry’s family. Some excerpts:
“I put a lot of thoughts into this sincere letter — not since my finding of guilt, but since the night when I was first informed by the death of Kendall.
“That night, when I received the news, it caught me off guard, something I wasn’t expecting to hear. … I, a human being, had no intention to harm anyone that night. … I do accept the fact that I made a mistake that night.
“… The feeling that overcame me that night wasn’t the feeling of a man that had a problem with me. It was the fear of a group of men that decided to get involve and made one man’s own problems their problems. … my answer to why I brought out a pair of scissors was only to scare a group of men, but it ended up leading to the death of your son and I’m sorry for that.
“… I’m really sorry for the loss of your son. I’m sorry for not giving my side of the story if you wanted to hear it.
“At last, if you, the mother of Kendall Berry, are able to find pity in your heart towards me, would you forgive me?”
According to news reports at the time, Melissa Spillman, Berry’s mother, took the stand to tell the judge she, and her family, had forgiven Wyche.
The Miami Herald quoted Spillman as saying, “We do forgive Quentin, and we know it’s hard on their family, as well. I ask that you have mercy.”
After the sentencing, Spillman and Wyche’s mother hugged.
Originally sentenced to 20.5 years in prison, with five years probation to follow, Wyche in 2016 appealed and was successful in having his sentence reduced to 11 years.
Even though he is out of prison, and moving on with his life, Wyche hasn’t given up on trying to get a new trial.
For him, carrying on the battle is about proving that the system can work, for everyone.
“It isn’t about me — it’s about due process,” Wyche said. “I want the people who look at me, see me smiling, to know that there is justice in the system.”
Wyche, he said, has never told anyone the entire story of what happened. He said he will, from the witness stand, if he gets a new trial.
Next, staff writer Eli Witek explores Wyche’s quest for a new trial.