Shell found by Therit's body linked by expert to shotgun

February 25, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- The spent shotgun shell found near the body of Melrose hardware store owner Charles W. Therit was fired from the partially rusted 20-gauge shotgun found two weeks after the slaying, according to a firearms expert who testified yesterday at the trial of the Carroll County man accused of the killing.

"The questionable shell recovered from the scene was fired from this particular shotgun," said Joseph Kopera, a state police firearms expert, as he pointed to the Stoeger shotgun found in the woods around the Deep Run Hardware Store in Melrose.

Mr. Kopera testified in the death-penalty trial of Michael C. Bryson Sr., 26, of Manchester, in Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

Mr. Bryson is charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and five related counts. He was arrested last April after investigators found fingerprints resembling his on the spent shotgun shell.

Mr. Kopera's testimony is the only link between the shell and the shotgun, which had no discernible fingerprints on it.

The Brazilian-made shotgun was taken from the store, where it was on sale for $99.95.

"It is not a well-made shotgun," Mr. Kopera said.

Mr. Therit, 51, was shot in the head March 25 during a $140 robbery at his store. His body was discovered less than an hour after he was killed, prosecutors say.

Testimony yesterday by the pathologist who performed Mr. Therit's autopsy revealed that he was shot at close range, perhaps as close as three feet from the end of the shotgun. The victim was killed almost instantly.

"In my medical opinion, he died within several seconds," said Dr. Junaid Shaikh, an assistant state medical examiner who performed the autopsy. "There was evidence of blood in the respiratory system. Several breaths were taken before he died."

More than 33 lead shotgun pellets -- as well as pieces of the shotgun shell assembly -- were recovered from Mr. Therit's head, Dr. Shaikh said. The shotgun shell carried a total of more than 253 pellets, most of which lodged in Mr. Therit's brain.

While Mr. Kopera was able to link the spent shell to the shotgun found in the woods, he could not positively say that the recovered pellets came from the gun or the shell.

"You can't say the pellets that hit the victim came from this gun, is that correct?," asked defense attorney Richard O'Connor.

"Yes, that's correct."

"You can't identify the pellets as coming from this particular shell?"

"There is no scientific means to test that," Mr. Kopera said.

Under questioning by Assistant State's Attorney Clarence "Buddy" Bell, Mr. Kopera testified that the pellets recovered from Mr. Therit's head were the same as those found in shotgun shells identical to the one found at the murder scene.

Prosecutors yesterday also presented witnesses to corroborate their assertion that Mr. Bryson -- who was released from a York County, Pa., jail two days before the murder -- was desperately seeking cash to pay restitution in a $5,000 embezzlement.

Testimony was to continue today before an Anne Arundel County jury.

The trial could end as early as next Friday, Circuit Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr. said. The prosecution is expected to rest Monday, after testimony from fingerprint experts that is expected to link the shotgun shell to Mr. Bryson.

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