Robert Purnell Bryant

On January 12, 1971, 20-year old Robert Bryant and two companions robbed and killed Edward McCormack on the street in Philadelphia. Bryant, who already had a felony record, was convicted of murder.

Philadelphia Daily News, January 14, 1971

With a de facto death penalty moratorium in place in anticipation of the United States Supreme Court’s landmark Furman v. Georgia decision, Bryant was sentenced to life imprisonment at SCI-Graterford on June 2, 1972.

Assaulting a prison psychologist in 1974 brought Bryant a second life sentence (Pittsburgh Press, April 17, 1986) and a transfer to SCI-Pittsburgh (formerly Western Penitentiary).

There, on May 15, 1984, Bryant and Larry Greer assaulted and killed fellow inmate Abraham (Abe) Glenn Chapman, Jr., for informing prison authorities that Bryant was in possession of marijuana. Chapman made that report in November 1983. Soon after serving 120 days in segregation for that offense, Bryant stabbed Chapman to death while Greer held him.

Western Penitentiary

Chapman, who lived in Homestead, was serving the second year of a 15-30 year sentence for a series of burglaries and robberies across the eastern neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 16, 1984

Bryant was convicted of first-degree murder on April 16, 1986, and sentenced to death two days later. That conviction was quickly overturned by the trial court after it was determined the jury had mistakenly been given information it should not have seen. Bryant was retried, convicted, and sentenced to death again on March 31, 1987.

Larry Greer was acquitted at trial in Chapman’s killing.

After his conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal in 1990 (Commonwealth v. Bryant, 524 Pa. 564), Bryant sought relief under the state’s Post Conviction Relief Act, enacted in the 1980s as an additional layer of protection against wrongful convictions. Though the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Bryant’s claim that his conviction was unwarranted, it did grant a new sentencing hearing (Commonwealth v. Bryant, 566 Pa. 307, 2001). That ruling was upheld on appeal (Commonwealth v. Bryant, 579 Pa. 119, 2004).

After a new sentencing hearing, Bryant was sentenced to life imprisonment on September 29, 2010, when the court determined that the factors mitigating a death sentence outweighed the aggravating factors. Under Pennsylvania law, such a finding precluded a new death sentence.

A neuropsychological evaluation of Bryant conducted in 1996 found that he was “borderline retarded,” had features of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a pre-confinement history of “heavy drinking,” and a childhood history of serious head injuries.


Robert Bryant remains in prison serving a life sentence.

Robert Bryant

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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