Fingerprint link described in Bryson trial

February 26, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- The big break in the Therit murder investigation was made under a microscope in a state police crime laboratory.

James Simms, who heads the state police fingerprint identification unit, matched the print on a spent shotgun shell to Michael C. Bryson Sr.'s right ring finger.

Within hours, Mr. Bryson was arrested and charged with Charles W. Therit's murder.

During testimony in Mr. Bryson's death-penalty trial in Anne Arundel Circuit Court yesterday, Mr. Simms said that after making the identification -- and matching Mr. Bryson's prints to impressions left on a glass-top display case and a box of ammunition at the Deep Run Hardware Store -- he called investigators in Westminster, who promptly made the arrest.

"They were Michael Bryson's prints beyond any doubt," Mr. Simms said.

Mr. Bryson, 26, of Manchester, was charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and five related offenses. His trial began Feb. 16.

The fingerprint expert was given more than 50 "latent hits" -- either single prints or groups of prints -- to sift through in the days after Mr. Therit's slaying.

Mr. Therit, 51, the owner of Deep Run Hardware in Melrose, was shot in the head at close range during a $140 robbery last March 25. The spent 20-gauge shotgun shell with Mr. Bryson's fingerprint was found near the body. Mr. Therit was killed with a Brazilian-made shotgun taken from his store.

The shotgun -- ditched in the woods less than 300 feet from the store -- wasn't found until state police investigators conducted a search after Mr. Bryson's arrest.

The woods weren't searched until then because the investigation was focused at first on locating cars that witnesses said they saw speeding from the murder scene on the night of March 25, state police Cpl. Wayne Moffatt testified yesterday.

"With the information we had at first, we were concentrating on vehicles, not on the area surrounding the store," he said.

The gun did not bear any fingerprints when it was found, but ballistics tests showed that the spent shotgun shell with Mr. Bryson's fingerprint was fired from the gun.

Defense attorneys have argued that taking so long after the slaying to find the gun was irresponsible. Under cross-examination last week, a crime-lab technician on the scene the night of the killing agreed that failing to conduct a search immediately was "neglectful."

Yesterday, defense attorney Ronald Hogg asked Corporal Moffatt if he agreed with the crime-lab technician.

"That's his opinion. When you have a case of this nature, it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack," the corporal said.

By yesterday, prosecutors had produced at least one person who saw Mr. Bryson in the store minutes before the slaying, fingerprints linking the defendant to the shotgun shell and ballistics tests linking the shell to the shotgun found in the woods.

The trial continues today in Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr.'s courtroom.

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