Bryson's defense alleges romance

March 03, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Since Feb. 16, prosecutors have been telling an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jury that Michael C. Bryson Sr. is the man who shot Melrose hardware store Charles W. Therit in the head during a $140 robbery last March.

Yesterday, Mr. Bryson's attorneys began their defense case by trying to show the jury that someone else could have committed the crime. They presented a witness who claims he saw Mr. Therit's widow embracing another man one summer afternoon two years ago.

"She was embracing with some well-dressed fella," testified Edward Wisner, a Carroll County man who said he had known the Therits for at least 15 years. "They was just hugging and carrying-on. It would have been a lover's kiss."

Mr. Wisner said he recalled seeing Faye Therit and the unidentified man at a lookout at the Prettyboy Reservoir, where Mr. Wisner works. While he couldn't describe the man in detail, he said emphatically: "He was not Mr. Therit."

Prosecutors had sought to bar Mr. Wisner's testimony, but defense attorneys said it was crucial to their client.

"We don't want to sling mud at anyone, that's not our style," said defense attorney Richard O'Connor. "But Mr. Bryson is entitled to a defense."

The romantic liaison -- ruled out by state police detectives early in the murder investigation -- provides at least one other possible motive for the murder, Mr. O'Connor said.

"The defendant should be able to put on a defense that says, 'You got the wrong guy here,' " he said in December during a pre-trial hearing before Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr. "I mean, illicit romance is one of the strongest motives for murder throughout history."

Judge Duckett decided yesterday to allow the testimony.

"Look, we're discussing reasonable doubt here," he said while the attorneys argued about Mr. Wisner out of the hearing of the jury.

But, the judge said, "I personally don't believe the allegations and it embarrasses me to see this woman subjected to this."

After dismissing the jury for the day, the judge told the attorneys that Mr. Wisner "sort of fell on his kiester" when he described what he saw that afternoon at the reservoir.

Mrs. Therit, who testified last week, will be called back to the stand to deny Mr. Wisner's allegations after the defense rests, said Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman.

Mr. O'Connor originally predicted that he would finish his case yesterday, but the length of testimony from the prosecution's final witness, a two-hour lunch break and several breaks allowed for only two defense witnesses.

Mr. O'Connor said he expects to call two or three additional witnesses today, then prosecutors will have a chance to present rebuttal witnesses. The case could still go to the jury by the end of the week, attorneys said.

It appears unlikely that Mr. Bryson will testify.

Mr. Bryson, 26, of Manchester, has maintained his innocence throughout his death-penalty trial.

He was arrested April 6 after his fingerprints were detected on a spent 20-gauge shotgun found near Mr. Therit's body. He faces charges of first-degree murder, armed-robbery and five other counts.

In a taped interview played yesterday for the jury during testimony from state police Cpl. Steve Burdelski, the prosecution's final witness, Mr. Bryson said he didn't kill Mr. Therit.

"See, I didn't do this. And eventually I'm going to walk away from this," Mr. Bryson told Corporal Burdelski.

"And I just want you to know that when I walk away from this, you're still a pompous ass."

After often rancorous exchanges with Mr. Bryson, Corporal Burdelski decided to end the interview. Mr. Bryson concurred with that decision.

"So what's next?" Mr. Bryson asked.

". . . fingerprint ya', photograph ya', take you to the [court] commissioner's office," the corporal answered.

"Let's do it," Mr. Bryson responded. "Starsky and Hutch hour is over with."

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