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The children's names are links that will take you to websites with more information...
I would like to give credit to the Littlestangels and Stolen Innocence webpages for most  of the names found here.

Christopher Brine

Pittsburgh, PA -- Alan Pursell was 22 years old in 1981 when he sexually assaulted and murdered 13-year-old Christopher Brine in Lawrence Park Township in Pennsylvania.  

Christopher's nude body was found in a wooded area with a two foot long tree branch laid across his throat.  

Christopher's windpipe was crushed and the medical examiner testified that Christopher suffered at least 15 blows to the head, chest and scrotum.  Much of the damage was done with a large rock.  

Pursell's glasses were found at the scene of the murder and there was blood on his clothing and shoes.  He was arrested three days after Christopher's murder. 

Pursell was convicted and sentenced to die on June 10, 1999, however the execution has been stayed. 


February 10, 2002 -- Richard Brine says the flashbacks still come 21 years later.

His youngest child, a smallish 13-year-old, bludgeoned, his body lying just off a path winding through woods east of Erie, a mile from home.

"It's a strange thing," Brine said last week. "Right out of the clear, I can see his body at the hospital when I went to identify him."

Brine, 71, is a retired welder and former school bus driver who had quadruple bypass surgery 14 months ago.

"When it happens, when I see this, it's not good for an old man."

It's been 20 years and three weeks since an Erie County jury sent 22-year-old Alan Pursell, whose unbroken history of drug abuse dated to age 7, to Death Row for beating eighth-grader Christopher Brine with a rock, strangling him with a tree limb and leaving him bloodied and naked.

Stirred periodically by a flow of appeals, the case never quite died. Now, it awakens again, with a ruling from a federal judge in another appeal upholding Pursell's murder conviction but throwing out the death sentence.

In a 212-page opinion, Chief U.S. District Judge D. Brooks Smith, sitting at the federal court in Johnstown, ruled that there were no verdict-rocking mistakes in the trial.

But in a separate hearing, where jurors weighed the death penalty, Pursell's attorney laid out an "anemic" case, Smith wrote.

It never touched on a life that reads like a horror story -- Pursell born to an alcoholic prostitute, surrendered at age 4 through an adoption sealed in a barroom, beaten and sexually abused by his adoptive father.

Had he offered that to jurors, Smith wrote, Pursell's trial attorney "could have added flesh, bones, a mind and a heart to Alan Pursell."

With Smith's ruling, lawyers have quick decisions to make to meet the federal 30-day appeal deadline.

Erie County prosecutors could walk away from the case and let the convicted killer, now 42, live out his life in prison without chance of parole.

His defense team, the Defender Association of Philadelphia, a nonprofit agency, could renew its fight against the murder conviction.

Erie County prosecutors could appeal in the federal system to reinstate Pursell's death sentence. Or they could let the ruling stand and ask that a new Erie County jury be seated 20 years after the fact to consider reimposing the death penalty.

"I don't know if anything like that's ever been done," said Kenneth Zak, an assistant district attorney who inherited the case 11 years ago.

If Richard Brine has his way, it will be. "I want to see the death penalty, yes indeed," he said. "You take a life sentence and, yeah, that's still living better than most people live."

For now, both sides are sorting through the 212 pages in Smith's opinion.

"It takes time to read it a few times," said Stuart Lev, a lawyer with the Defender Association.

The case began after supper July 23, 1981, when Christopher Brine rode off on his bicycle from his home in Wesleyville to the bike paths in Lawrence Park Township a mile from home.

He was a small, skinny boy, the youngest of eight children.

"He was just blooming," his father said.

Christopher Brine might have taken a special shine to his bronze-colored bike because it gave him mobility in a way that his own legs couldn't; with one leg shorter than the other, the youngster ran with a limp.

But he never came home.

The next day, Christopher's body was found in a clearing near the path, a scene of incongruity.

His face had been bludgeoned, probably pounded 15 times with a rock, but his shoes were placed neatly beside the body and his pants were folded carefully over a tree limb.

Pursell, who lived with his mother in a mobile home park five blocks from the Brine home, was arrested a few days later.

Police, working before DNA technology was developed, retrieved Pursell's shoes and found spatters of blood that didn't match his. With that came a twist that seemed stolen from the notorious Leopold and Loeb murder case that gripped the nation seven decades earlier.

In that case, Nathan Leopold, 19, and Richard Loeb, 18, both sons of privilege, plotted the murder of a youngster as almost an intellectual exercise in building the perfect crime. But the plot came undone and both were convicted after Leopold's eyeglasses, distinctive because of a hinge offered by a single Chicago optometrist, were found near the body.

Near Christopher Brine's body, too, police found a pair of glasses.

The prescription was so rare, a local optometrist, Dr. Moody Perry testified, that he wrote only one prescription like it in six years. It was for Alan Pursell. And, in a point Pursell denied, Perry said Pursell turned up at his office the day after the killing, seeking a replacement pair.

Three days after that, as police withheld information about finding the glasses, Pursell and friend Diane Walters watched a television news report about the crime, Walters later testified. Pursell turned and asked whether a person's identity could be traced through his glasses, she said.

The bloodied shoes and the glasses "established a solid foundation for Pursell's guilt," Smith wrote. Indeed, in short order, a jury convicted Pursell, a man who sported a "Born to raise hell" tattoo but carried a criminal past that consisted only of a go-cart theft and a $191 bad-check charge.

Prosecutors offered no motive for the homicide. Shortly after the murder, police suggested in a search-warrant affidavit that the killing was part of a sexual assault. But Pursell was never charged with any sex crimes, and the theory never resurfaced when the case went to trial.

In May 1999, Pursell, at the maximum-security state prison in Greene County, was nudged closer to the state death chamber when then-Gov. Tom Ridge signed his death warrant. Twelve days later, though, Smith stayed the warrant when he got Pursell's appeal -- one of a 20-year series he filed through attorneys or authored himself.

"It just seems like appeal and appeal and appeal," Brine said.

The appeal to Smith, though, gets him off Death Row.

Purcell's appeal contended that the Erie County trial shortchanged him in a number of ways, from refusing a change of venue to prosecutors' failure to disclose what he said was evidence that a man who didn't fit his description was soliciting sex from local youngsters. Peppered throughout the appeal were claims that his defense attorney was ineffective.

In court, Smith wrote, Pursell's attorney tried to fend off the death sentence only by saying that the defendant was young, had a girlfriend, carried a bland criminal record and wanted to live. By Smith's account, that paled next to "powerful evidence that should have been presented."

The 4-year-old that Pursell's prostitute mother surrendered to another woman was filthy and malnourished.

When a man came calling at his adoptive mother's house, Pursell announced, "Lay down. Man here. Make money," the judge wrote. By age 7, Pursell was sniffing glue; as a teen-ager, he habitually huffed solvents, the court record says.

Beatings and drug abuse dulled his impulse control, one psychologist concluded.

Zak countered last week that Pursell's story of abuse surfaced only when the appeal arrived in federal court in 1999 and was never mentioned in previous appeals Pursell filed. He won't say whether he considers the claims suspect.

"But why, oh, why, didn't this come up earlier?" he said.

Michelle Bright

Sydney, Australia -- Jan. 18, 2000 -- Imagine having to drive every day past the site where your daughter was raped and murdered.

Then imagine arriving at work and having to confront some of the suspects in the unsolved case.

For Lorraine and Greg Bright of Gulgong, near Mudgee, this is reality - a reality they can no longer endure.

The couple, whose 17-year-old daughter, Michelle, was murdered, will leave Gulgong, their home of 16 years, this week and move to the Hunter Valley.

"That's what hurts me the most - that we've been pushed out of our home, our town and our jobs by this incident," Mrs. Bright says.

"It's not just us that's angry; the town's angry that this has happened. We moved here because it was a safe haven to bring up our three kids, and we got this dealt to us."

The most difficult part of all is that Mrs. Bright believes people in the town know who was responsible for her daughter's death, but are afraid to tell police.

Michelle Bright was sexually assaulted and killed in the early hours of February 27 last year. Her semi-naked body was found beside the road less than a kilometre from her home.

Earlier that night, Michelle had been at a friend's 15th birthday party, and was last seen by two friends who dropped her off in Gulgong's main street. What happened after that is unknown.

Police will not disclose the cause of Michelle's death, but confirm they have found several items crucial to the investigation.

Fourteen men, aged between 16 and 45, have provided police with blood and hair samples for DNA testing.

Of those, eight attended the same party as Michelle. Two others were locals, two were from Sydney and two from Queensland.

Detective Inspector David Payne, of Mudgee police, says all 14 men remain "persons of interest." It is possible more than one person was involved in the crime, he says.

Inspector Payne says there were problems with the DNA tests because Michelle's body was exposed to the elements for a week before she was found.

"We're in the process of seeing whether we can get DNA from other items found at the scene."

Gulgong's young people, particularly, seem reluctant to help police with their inquiries, Inspector Payne says.

"People are obviously feeling some pressure as a result of the investigation."

Anger and frustration have consumed the Brights' lives. Mrs. Bright, who worked at the Gulgong RSL Club, has had to serve men who might have killed her daughter and those who may know something.

She's had to watch Michelle's friends celebrate their 18th birthdays, get their drivers' licenses and prepare for the HSC.

The only route from the Brights' home to the town is past the site where their daughter was murdered. A cross adorned with flowers and a photograph is a constant reminder.

For the past two months, the Brights have been gradually moving their belongings to their new home in the Hunter Valley.

Yesterday, they took the final, most painful, step: packing up Michelle's bedroom.

"I've been putting this off for so long that I keep taking her clothes out of the wardrobe, then hanging them back up," Mrs. Bright says, holding Michelle's school sweater with "Shell" (her nickname) on the back.

"We've had a lot of advice to get rid of the memories, but it's just too soon."

Mrs. Bright will make up Michelle's room in their new home.

"I just can't pack it all up - that would be like saying goodbye forever."

The family can't begin to grieve until justice is done, Mrs. Bright says.

"I just wish someone would come forward and give us some sort of peace, because every day is like a living nightmare."