Bright Convicted in Friend’s Stabbing

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By Andrea Adelson | LB Indy

Jensen Gray on his 27th birthday, just weeks before his murder in July 2012.
Jensen Gray on his 27th birthday, just weeks before his murder in July 2012.

Former classmates Jensen Gray and Ryan Tyler Bright remained in touch long after their graduation from Laguna Beach High School. Twice the pair was arrested together, in 2007 and again in 2009, ultimately pleading guilty to drug and paraphernalia possession charges, court records show.

Next month, though, Bright alone will return to the courtroom, facing a sentence of 16 years to life in prison for Gray’s stabbing-death in a Santa Monica apartment after a night of drinking alcohol and escalating violence in 2012.

On Dec. 22, a jury in a Los Angeles Superior Court found Bright guilty of second-degree murder following a trial where the accused said he acted in self-defense and the victim’s history of drug use was fully revealed, said prosecutor Heather Steggell.

Bright’s defense attorney, Andrew Flier, of Encino, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Gray’s father remained confidant that his son’s previous run-ins with the law would not sway the jury. “It’s about a life that was taken that should not have been,” said Gray, who with his wife Kerry, was present for every court appearance. “I didn’t want the jury to miss a single moment,” said Gray, though reliving the last hours of his son’s life proved “an excruciating experience.”

By the time the case was set for trial in the West District Airport Court last December, Steggell had already been transferred to the hard-core gang unit. As a measure of Gray vigilance, he interceded with her boss, arguing that the public interest would best be served if she finished the case, said Steggell, who described that intervention as unusual.

Bright’s relatives, including his father, sister, brother in law and stepmother, were also faithfully present during court proceedings, Steggell said.

“These are two young men who took a wrong turn with the law,” the prosecutor said.

Throughout the night of July 11, 2012, videos and eyewitness accounts presented during the trial show that Gray acted to shield Bright’s girlfriend and her friend, Gabrielle Frye, then 17 and also from Laguna Beach, as Bright’s anger escalated between a 1 a.m. fight when police were called and the stabbing at 3:25 a.m., Steggell said.

When an enraged Bright found himself locked out of the ground-floor apartment he shared with his girlfriend, he scaled a patio wall and entered through an unlocked door, which Frye tried to close, Steggell said. To clear his path, Bright grabbed her around the neck so forcefully she screamed that she couldn’t breathe. Gray separated the two, but Bright pulled out a knife and stabbed his friend three times in the abdomen and a fourth in the back as he crawled away, Steggell said.

Police detained Bright less than a block from the apartment after he had hidden the knife under a transient and a bloody shirt under a construction fence, Steggell said.

In his own defense, Bright testified that Gray and Frye had attacked him and pinned him down, the prosecutor said.

Frye, who testified for a full day and often was overcome with emotion retelling the experience, nevertheless was “unequivocal that it was not self-defense,” said Steggell, adding that the physical evidence corroborated her account and provided “a pretty clear picture of what happened.”

Tom Gray is the first to describe his son as “no angel.” “He put us through a lot,” he said in an interview. Even so, the father takes great pride in his son’s final two years, which Gray says were drug free. And at the trial’s conclusion, Santa Monica police detective Daniel Larios pulled the Grays aside to deliver his own conclusion. “Your son was a hero, protecting that girl with his life.”

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