WESTMINSTER — Using fingerprints found on a spent shotgun shell and a cryptic entry in the store log, Maryland State Police charged a Carroll County man Monday in the slaying of Melrose hardware store owner Charles W. Therit Jr.
Michael C. Bryson, 25, of Melrose, was charged with murder, armed robbery and theft, police said.
Bryson, of no fixed address, was arrested about 6:30 p.m. at his parents' house on East Deep Run Road -- less than a mile from Therit's Deep Run Hardware store.
Therit was shot in the face at about 7:30 p.m. March 25 as he was minding his hardware and sporting goods store on Hanover Pike in Melrose. He was Carroll's first homicide of 1992.
People in the close-knit community were stunned, and many speculated someone from outside the community killed Therit.
Bryson's family, like the Therit family, lives in the Melrose area and is wellknown by other residents in the community.
Mary E. Therit, the victim's mother, said she knows the Bryson family.
"All I can say isthat I feel so sorry for the parents and his grandmother. I am very sorry and that comes from the bottom of my heart," she said yesterday.
Police investigators, led by Sgt. Morgan Storey, the chief criminal investigator at the Westminster Barracks, pieced together the case from evidence found at the store.
Investigators said they found a spent 20-gauge shotgun shell on the floor of the shop in front of the the cash register.
The shell apparently came from an open box of shotgun shells found at the store's gun counter. One of the shells was missing from the box, according to the statement of charges filedagainst Bryson.
State police sent the shell to the crime lab. On Monday, 13 days after the killing, the crime lab notified investigators that the shell had fingerprints matching Bryson's.
Police said the weapon used in the crime may have been a 20-gauge shotgun missingfrom the store. When police took an inventory of the guns and riflesin the store, they found that a 20-gauge Stoeger shotgun was missing.
The gun had not been recovered yesterday, when police obtained awarrant to search the place they think Bryson may have been living the last three weeks.
The other evidence came from a log Therit andhis employees kept on the customers who came into the store. The last entry in the log was: "Reminds me of Bryson. 7:15 p.m. Wed. Eve."
Police found other customers who said they "observed a male handling ammunition and guns at the gun counter near the cash register," according to the statement of facts.
Last week, police released a composite sketch of a white male 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-10, weighing between200 and 210 pounds.
Bryson is 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 240pounds, court papers show.
Bryson was arrested in Carroll County in 1990 and charged with driving while intoxicated. He was charged with battery in Baltimore County in 1991 and received probation before judgment.
Bryson was jailed in Baltimore County before March 10, awaiting trial on charges of forgery, uttering and theft of goods under $300, Baltimore County court records show.
Investigators have been unwilling to say much about the case. But they said they are looking for people who may have seen or talked to Bryson between March 23 and April 6.
"We are interested in establishing his whereabouts during this period," said Carroll County State's Attorney Thomas Hickman.
Anyone with information should call 848-3111 or 876-2101.