Judge rules on evidence in killing Therit case led early to several dead ends

December 02, 1992|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

In the days before state police investigators arrested Michael C. Bryson Sr. in the murder of Melrose hardware store owner Charles W. Therit, their search for the killer led to three dead ends.

None of the dead ends led investigators anywhere near Mr. Bryson, who was arrested April 6 after a set of fingerprints found at the slaying scene was identified as his. Mr. Bryson was in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court yesterday, as his attorneys and prosecutors argued over more than 30 pre-trial motions in the death penalty case.

One of the state's motions -- which Circuit Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr. granted -- sought to exclude testimony about the investigation's early dead ends.

One of those dead ends, according to testimony, was Mr. Therit's widow.

Shortly after Mr. Therit, 51, was shot in the head March 25, a state trooper told investigators of a possible romantic liaison.

Investigators concluded that no such liaison took place.

Another unproductive lead involved a man wanted on theft and forgery charges in Carroll and in other states who left town the day after Mr. Therit's death.

The man, who went by the names Randall Curtis Braxton and Robert Thomas Brophy, was arrested in Tennessee and brought back to Carroll. However, investigators eliminated him as a suspect, because he and his girlfriend had planned for weeks to leave Carroll County.

The final dead end before Mr. Bryson's arrest involved a pair of men who had just been released from jail after serving time for constructing a pipe bomb. The bomb was made with material bought from Mr. Therit's hardware store. Mr. Therit had given police the information that led to the arrest of the two.

But, after interviewing them, investigators also ruled them out.

In arguing to allow testimony about the early leads, defense attorneys said keeping that information from a jury could limit Mr. Bryson's defenses.

"The defendant should be able to put on a defense that says, 'You got the wrong guy here,' " said Richard O'Connor, Mr. Bryson's defense attorney. "I mean, illicit romance is one of the strongest motives for murder throughout history."

In the five-hour motions hearing, lawyers argued over legal technicalities, the death penalty and even the questioning of the 120-person jury pool.

While prosecutors won the right to use some pictures of Mr. Therit's body in a pool of blood, the defense was able to bar the use of graphic close-ups.

The state will be allowed to conduct a deposition of Mr. Bryson's ailing father tomorrow, but the deposition will be admitted into evidence only should Mr. Bryson's father be in the hospital.

And while defense attorneys won the right to be present at any psychological evaluation of Mr. Bryson by doctors hired by the prosecution, the state won the right to use emotional arguments in support of the death penalty if Mr. Bryson is convicted and sentenced.

In death penalty cases, the defendant can choose whether the judge or jury decides the sentence. Though the state is seeking the death penalty, the defendant is not automatically sentenced to death if convicted.

In other motions, the state was prevented from presenting "a parade" of witnesses who would testify to the impact Mr. Therit's murder had upon them. Judge Duckett will allow only one relative to testify to that issue, and he will limit the number of letters from family members the jury will be allowed to see.

Judge Duckett, a long-time former Anne Arundel County state's attorney, appeared by turns impatient, amused or baffled by the sheer number of motions filed in the case. This is only the third death penalty case in Carroll since the Court of Appeals reinstated the death penalty in 1985.

The judge ruled on -- or declared moot -- all but two of the 35 motions in front of him yesterday.

The two motions he didn't rule on were defense calls for dropping of the death penalty on grounds that it is cruel and unusual, and unconstitutional. Judge Duckett likely will issue an opinion on the two motions within a week.

When the hearing was over yesterday afternoon, the judge seemed relieved it had ended in one day and heaped praise on the attorneys from the bench.

"The amount of work the four of you have put into this case is incredible," he told the two prosecutors and the two defense attorneys.

Both sides seemed pleased with yesterday's hearing. State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman said the judge's rulings were "fair" and that he "granted a lot motions in our favor."

Mr. O'Connor said the rulings "were reasonable."

Mr. Bryson, 26, will go on trial Jan. 7 to face charges of first-degree murder, armed robbery, two counts of murder in the commission of a felony, robbery, misdemeanor theft and battery.

Judge Duckett has set aside six weeks for the trial.

Mr. Bryson's case was moved to Anne Arundel County after his attorneys requested the change of venue.

He is being held without bond at the Carroll County Detention Center, where he will remain until his trial.

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