Police framed Bryson, defense says Murder trial begins in Annapolis

February 17, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Michael C. Bryson Sr. was framed for the murder of a Melrose hardware store owner by an incompetent police investigation, his attorney told an Anne Arundel Circuit Court jury yesterday as Mr. Bryson's capital murder trial began.

Defense attorney Ronald Hogg said the investigator in charge of the case disregarded evidence that didn't fit "into a neat little package," so police missed several opportunities to catch "the person who really did it."

"Mr. Bryson was negligently framed," Mr. Hogg said in his opening statement. "There was a lot more that police and prosecutors could have done. You will see that there are things they didn't do, things that they should have done."

Mr. Bryson, 26, of Manchester, is on trial for the slaying March 25 of Melrose hardware store owner Charles W. Therit, 51, who was killed by a 20-gauge rifle slug fired from a shotgun. The defendant was arrested April 6 after a state police investigation revealed that fingerprints resembling his appeared on the casing of the slug recovered from Mr. Therit's head. Mr. Bryson was charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and five related offenses.

Mr. Therit's death was Carroll's only homicide last year, a point Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman drove home to the jury yesterday.

"We are still a big farming community with a rural heritage," he said. "People live in Carroll County because we have very low taxes and very low crime."

Mr. Hickman told the jury that he would detail how he believes Mr. Bryson was desperate for cash, entered the hardware store on March 25, took a gun from behind the counter and shot Mr. Therit before fleeing with a fistful of $10 and $20 bills from the cash register.

"We have a job to do, and we're going to do that job," the prosecutor said.

Mr. Hickman began the job by questioning a police crime scene technician who spent hours in the hardware store on March 25 and 26.

State police Cpl. James Mayo testified for nearly three hours, describing what the store looked like, what he and others found there and how investigators were able to find nearly 60 fingerprints on guns, counter tops and other surfaces.

Corporal Mayo said he found the spent shotgun shell with Mr. Bryson's fingerprints, as well as on two guns, a box of ammunition and on the glass counter top near Mr. Therit's body. But he and other investigators didn't find the suspected murder weapon until two days after Mr. Bryson was arrested.

That gun -- a 20-gauge shotgun -- was found in the woods about 100 yards from the hardware store, Corporal Mayo testified.

Under cross-examination by Mr. Hogg, Corporal Mayo admitted that waiting nearly two weeks after the killing to search the woods near the store "was neglectful in this case."

The gun found in the woods had no fingerprints on it, but ballistics tests showed that the bullet found in Mr. Therit's head was likely shot from that gun, Mr. Hickman contended.

Mr. Hickman and Assistant State's Attorney Clarence "Buddy" Beall called five other witnesses yesterday, including the 49-year-old man and his 13-year-old daughter who discovered Mr. Therit's body.

The trial, which is expected to last six-weeks, continues today before Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr.

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