When I’m asked about the death of Mike Bernos, I have a hard time determining where to start. This case is so multi-faceted and it is difficult to explain who Mike was and how Tony Quince fits into the picture. When Bernos was murdered, the world was a lot different. Cell phones weren’t a thing yet. Teens were listening to cassettes on a Walkman. 90210 was super popular. Facebook and Instagram didn’t exist. In short, information was not as readily available as it is today, and jurors had to rely on information that was presented to them by the prosecution and trust that it was true and correct.
I want you to keep that in mind as you look over the evidence I have laid out. I also ask that you look at this evidence as you would if you were sitting on the jury. Most importantly, I need you to look at this case objectively, and from a legal standpoint – not a moral one. As the Kyle Rittenhouse case has shown us in recent weeks, American courts are in place to determine legality, not morality, which can have quite the impact on a verdict.
The defendant in this case has claimed his innocence since the murder, and after much research and investigation, his claims might be true. I want to give you all of the information I have uncovered and let you make your own decision. Is Tony Quince innocent? You decide.
On July 28, 1994, Mike Bernos was found dead in his home in Rockford, Alabama by his mother, Juanita Bernos. Juanita had gotten worried when she had not heard from Mike the day before, which was Wednesday. Juanita told investigators that Mike would always call her on Wednesdays to check in, so it was quite unusual that she had not heard from him, especially considering the two of them had plans to head to Jacksonville, Florida for vacation the next day.
Mike’s home was nestled in a secluded area of Rockford. The house isn’t visible from the road, especially during the summer months when abundant foliage is in bloom. You have to drive about a quarter of a mile down a winding driveway to see his home.
Juanita said she didn’t notice anything unusual when she arrived. Mike’s cars – a truck and a Corvette – were parked under the carport. A new lawnmower was in the back of the truck, and she noticed only half of the grass had been cut.
Here’s what Roxanne McFarland, Juanita’s daughter, told me when I asked about the crime:
“She knocked on the front door and there wasn’t any answer. She went around to the back where the french doors are, where you could see in and she saw Mike in his recliner. She thought he was just taking a nap and didn’t hear her. But then he has a German Shepherd, a white German Shepherd named Blitz. When my mother back back around, that dog howled, like howled a howl that was like pain. She knocked on the door again. I guess she had a key or he would leave a key somewhere. Anyway, she had the key and she said, “Mike, I’m coming on in.” She went on in and she said when she first looked at him, she didn’t even see all the blood or the gunshot places. She thought that he had been cutting the grass and had a heatstroke. She called 911 and the woman came on. She told her, she tried to shake him to wake him up. It wasn’t until the police got there. She went back outside and then the police got there. That’s when they went in and found that he’d been shot and there was blood there and blood all in the chair, of course. It was just incredible how she was, I feel that it was God that protected her from seeing all of that at one time. That would have just been, you know, too much for a mother.“
Documents also show that on that same day around 6:00pm, the Rockford Police Department had received a call from a local student named Adrienne Cleckler that some papers belonging to Bernos had been located in neighboring Chilton County off County Road 24, just east of County Road 59. Investigators visited this location to discover the victim’s wallet, credit cards, a personal check for $75, and some miscellaneous papers.
Early Investigation & Identifying Tony Quince
One of the first people to arrive at the scene after Mike’s body had been found was former Rockford Police Chief Colonel Alan Rambo. I don’t know much about Col. Rambo except, according to anyone I spoke to, he made some major mistakes regarding contamination of the crime scene. No one could really go into specifics about what those mistakes were, but even in the documentation I was able to find 24 years after the fact, it was easily to speculate. In one of the documents I obtained, Rambo states he and fellow officers left the crime scene before they had finished collecting all of the evidence so they could go eat at Waffle House. When they were done, they returned to the crime scene to collect the remaining evidence.
I asked a friend of mine, Allen George, about whether or not leaving a crime scene before all evidence is collected is a standard practice in Alabama. George has been a police officer for over 25 years and is well-versed in crime scene investigation. He told me:
“You know, in our area, no. It’s not…that’s not normal. Could I say that in some, you know, rural county or something along those lines where it doesn’t encounter something like that often? I mean, I could see that. It’s not standard practice. Reason being, even with leaving some, you have something that is called short-lived evidence. So even leaving somebody there [to protect the scene], you know, supposedly security, the addigy is you only get one shot at that. You know, once you walk out and leave, then, which I guess legally as far as the court viewpoint, leaving somebody there as security would somewhat eliminate that, but our process has always been no matter if it takes you all night to process it, which sometimes is what homicide does, then that’s how long you’re there.“
Although Rambo did collect a small bit of evidence and begin an early investigation, he immediately handed the case over to investigators from the Alabama Bureau of Investigation (ABI). Col. Rambo offered documents to agents describing any actions taken on behalf of his department concerning the Bernos murder. On September 7, 1994, Rambo sent a typed statement to ABI agent Karl Youngblood that introduced a potential suspect, Tony Orlando Quince, as having been involved in the murder. Rambo wrote in his statement:
“After we were finished at this scene, we met Chilton Co. Deputy Wright at the Waffle House on 31 in Clanton. In talking to Wright he came up with one person named Tony Quince b/m. Tony lives south of Al. Hwy. 22 on a dirt road that joins the dirt road where the victim’s property was located. He also came up with another subject who lives on Co. Rd. 59 North of Co. Rd. 24. We went by Tony Quince[‘s] residence, but he’s [his] vehicle was not home. We then went back to the victim’s residence to finish collecting the evidence. Deputy Owens was there to protect the scene. After collecting the rest of the evidence, we then called the family back to secure the house. Lisa Adams and Mark Bernos took the guns belonging to the victim and secured the residence. We all then left.“
When I started searching for information about Tony, I found that he was a very talented basketball player, frequently cited in the Montgomery Advertiser for points scored in each game. But I also found several arrest reports for Tony, ranging from drug possession to assault on an officer, all before he was even 18 years old. By far his most common arrest was for possession and distribution, being charged with six counts of sale of a controlled substance in an 18-month sting operation in Chilton County in October of 1994.
I can only assume Tony’s rough reputation was the reason why Chilton Co. Deputy Wright brought his name up to Rockford Police officers at the Waffle House the day Mike’s body was found, but I can’t say that for sure. Although he was only 19 at the time of Mike’s murder, Tony did have a connection to the victim and lived very close to him.
About a week after the murder, a woman by the name of Lisa Deaton was watching the evening news and learned that Mike Bernos was dead. She picked up the phone and called her mother, Debbie Sainz, to tell her the news. Lisa’s brother, Daniel Blan, would often stay with Debbie at her home in Birmingham, AL when he was working in shipping and receiving at a local pipe supply company called Consolidated Pipe. On this night – August 3, 1994 – Daniel was at Debbie’s when Lisa called.
Daniel is important to this story because he is the adoptive son of Mike Bernos, and was also convicted of his murder. Blan maintains his innocence to this day. When Skeptical: A True Crime Podcast aired in 2018, the story focused on Blan’s case. However, I have since removed the original podcast from Libsyn, a decision I will talk about in another post.
The day after Blan learned of Mike’s murder, he and Debbie drove to the Chilton County Police Department to speak to investigators about Mike, seeking information on his death and to see if they could help in any way. When they arrived at the station, they were separated into two different rooms and interviewed by ABI agents.
In his initial statement to investigators, Blan (who was 24 at the time) said he had not seen Mike since June (about a month earlier) when he returned from a trip from Florida with a friend, Jamie Whitlock. Blan said he and Jamie had stopped by for a quick visit on the way back from their trip, but he ended up spending the night at Mike’s request. Jamie did not stay overnight. Blan said he returned to Birmingham the next day and went on with his life as usual. He had not spoken to Mike since.
The case eventually grew cold and leads were scarce. This is when the Bernos family decided to hire Bobbye Casper, a private investigator out of Georgia, to investigate Mike’s death. Within days of her arrival in Coosa County, Casper had developed several leads by speaking to family, friends, and witnesses in the case. Casper will become a crucial part of the defendant’s appeal and I will go into great detail about her role in the conviction(s) in later posts. For now, I will discuss Casper’s initial findings as they are documented in statements I received during my research into the case.
Roxanne McFarland described Casper’s introduction to the case:
“She came, she accepted the case. I think she had previously had some FBI experience or something. Anyway, she accepted the case and she went kind of like, I guess you could say undercover. In her first few days in Clanton [Chilton County], she pretty much had all the pieces all put together that the ABI had kind of dropped the ball. Danny [Daniel], they became I guess you’d say friends because Danny never really had that mothering kind of thing. He latched onto Bobbye like, almost like she was his mother.
He was in jail in Clanton, she went to visit him. Of course, he was thinking it’s his mother coming to see him. When she was talking to him about the murder, of course he would say, he’d say he didn’t do it, but he said, ‘If I was going to do it, this is how I would do it.’ He drew a picture of Mike inside of Mike’s house because, you know, Danny had been there several times. He said, ‘So then I would come from this room back here, down the hall and then the hallway…’. I think Bobbye had the drawing. She took the drawing.”
This drawing was one of the first documents in evidence I had seen during one of my visits to the Coosa County court house. It is small and only measures a few inches on the page, showing a bird’s eye view of the inside of Mike’s home and small dots indicating movement from a back bedroom to the living room where Mike’s body was discovered. I, too, began to connect the dots (no pun intended) to think maybe this was how Daniel had committed the crime – hiding in a back bedroom and ambushing Mike as he came in and sat in his recliner. At the time, I didn’t realize the significance of the drawing, but it was actually used as a key piece of evidence to obtain a warrant for Blan’s arrest.
While Casper had already nailed down Blan as a suspect, she had also spoken to witnesses who suggested Tony Quince was also involved in Mike’s murder. The prosecution used this evidence to form a theory that Blan had conspired with Quince to murder Mike so that Blan could pay off a $2,500 debt to Quince for drugs. There was no physical evidence to suggest Blan and Quince even knew each other, but witness statements either obtained by Casper or ABI agents in Casper’s presence certainly linked the two.
Tony’s Confession and Arrest
In March of 1995, Tony Quince had been arrested on a drug charge unrelated to the Mike Bernos case, although he was already being considered a suspect due to the statements obtained by Bobbye Casper. Many of the statements included comments that Tony’s name was being talked about in connection to the Bernos murder only a few days after Mike’s death. Even Tony’s younger brother, Jerry, admits this during his grand jury testimony.
As Tony sat in the Chilton County jail on the drug charge, two undercover officers – Agent Robert Thornton from the ABI and Cedric Anderson of the Auburn Police Department – posed as drug dealers and were placed in the same cell with Tony. They were hoping to get Tony to speak about the Bernos murder and his possible involvement.
Officer Thornton, who was wearing a wire, engaged Tony in general conversation. He and Officer Anderson told Tony they were big-time drug dealers, bringing in up to $6,000 per day in their trade. That amount of money intrigued Tony. When Tony told them he had been arrested on a drug charge, the officers suggested he come work for them in order to increase their drug profits.
When he told Anderson and Thornton about the drug arrest, Tony also mentioned that he was being investigated for the murder of Bernos, who he referred to as “the Coach.” Although he had initially told them he was innocent of that crime, he later confessed to murdering Bernos and disposing of the weapon used in the Coosa County River a few miles away from Mike’s home.
Keep in mind this information is based on written statements from Thornton and Anderson because the audio from the wire Thornton was wearing is nearly inaudible. I’ve heard the audio myself, and I was never able to make out Tony’s “confession”.
Shortly after midnight on March 22, 1995, Tony learned Thornton and Anderson weren’t drug dealers at all, and that because of his confession, he was being placed under arrest for the murder of Mike Bernos.
Altered Firearm & Daniel’s Arrest
On July 30, 1994, a Verbena resident by the name of Timothy Atchinson was stopped by a patrol officer for a traffic violation. During this encounter, the officer discovered Atchison had a Bryco Arms 380 pistol on the edge of his front seat with the serial numbers filed off. Atchison also did not possess a permit to carry the weapon, and was subsequently arrested.
During his arrest, Atchison stated he got the gun from a man named Joe Robinson, who in turn had gotten it from a man named William Price. Price will become an important witness in the Bernos case because of his connection to this gun and his relationship to several other witnesses, including Quince. On the night of July 27, 1994, Price was with a man named William “Butch” Browder who had traded five rocks of crack cocaine for the gun in Clanton, Alabama. Browder claimed Price had paid him for the gun, and the gun had been sold to several others previously mentioned after that.
The takeaway from the gun exchange is that Browder stated he had bartered the gun from Daniel Blan on July 27th, the night of the murder. Blan was subsequently arrested for the altered firearm and charged with Mike’s murder.
If your head is spinning trying to figure out who had this gun and how it anyone figured out it came from Blan, join the club.
State of AL v. Daniel Blan
The State’s case against Blan was weak, to say the least. With little forensic evidence to provide his guilt, prosecutors lined up witnesses to establish the timeline, investigators from the ABI, and several jailhouse informants – that is, inmates who claimed they had overheard or had conversations with Blan in which he eluded to murdering Bernos.
The case came full circle with the introduction of their star witness, Bobbye Casper. Casper had testified about the drawing Blan had done during one of her jailhouse visits, testimony that would be very powerful in the eyes of the jury.
The gun charge would eventually be dropped, but it played a significant part in Blan’s conviction. That is because during grand jury testimony, prosecutors frequently referred to the gun as the murder weapon, although there was little to no evidence to support that claim. In fact, the gun in question was never even found to be in Blan’s possession.
Without four hours of the jury being dismissed for deliberations, they returned with a guilty verdict. At the request of the Bernos family, Blan was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
State of AL v. Tony Quince
During an early trip to the Coosa County courthouse, I asked if I could look through the evidence presented in both Daniel and Tony’s trials. Officials in Coosa County were overwhelmingly helpful in my investigation, and they agreed to let me take a peek at the evidence in a secured office with a witness. I expected large poster boards of photos and maps, but what I found was a single file box half full with mostly documentation. Within this box was another small blue box with an exhibit sticker stuck to the top. It was an empty Bryco .380 caliber pistol box.
This empty box, to me, was the crux of the prosecution’s theory and the only physical evidence to possible link Blan and Quince to each other. This is because after Tony’s jailhouse confession to Thornton and Anderson, officers conducted a search on Tony’s property and found the empty box, theorizing the altered firearm that had been in that box was later sold to Butch Browder by Daniel Blan.
Tony’s jailhouse confession was the catalyst for his conviction. Paired with witness statements from Casper and the empty gun box, jurors voted unanimously to convict Quince of murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Claims of Innocence
Tony Quince has always claimed his innocence since he was first incarcerated. The evidence against him looks pretty damning at first glance, right? That’s what I thought until I really began to take a close look at the evidence and the key players involved in his conviction.
I’ll be going more in depth with the case analysis in future posts. If you’re interested in learning what I have uncovered, I’d kindly ask that you subscribe to be notified of future posts. If you have any questions about what I lay out, please leave me a comment so that I can address any issues.
So hold on tight, folks. I’m about to take you on a wild ride.