Bryson guilty of murder in 1992 Therit slaying Judge could impose death sentence

March 12, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jury yesterday convicted Michael C. Bryson Sr. of killing a Melrose hardware store owner during a $140 robbery last March.

Bryson, 26, of Manchester, could be sentenced to die in the gas chamber for his conviction on a first-degree murder count in the killing of Charles W. Therit. The jury also found him guilty of two felony murder counts, robbery, armed robbery, battery and theft.

After the verdict, Bryson waived his right to have the trial jury impose sentence and chose to be sentenced by Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr., who presided at the trial.

"This was a cold, calculated killing," Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman said after hearing the verdict. "This was one of the strongest circumstantial cases I've ever seen."

"I don't really know what to say right now," Mr. Therit's wife, Faye, said yesterday from the Deep Run Hardware store where her husband was killed. "I guess it's a relief. If it wasn't for all of the wonderful, supportive people who have been coming into the store, I don't know what I would have done."

She was not present when the jury returned its verdict shortly after noon yesterday.

Bryson, who occasionally engaged in friendly conversation with sheriff's deputies, clerks and newspaper reporters throughout the two months of jury selection and trial testimony, stood silently and showed no emotion as the jury foreman read the string of guilty verdicts.

"He knows this is really the beginning of the legal process for him," said Richard O'Connor, one of Bryson's defense attorneys. "As far as the verdict today, we wouldn't have been surprised by anything."

Bryson will be returned to the Carroll County Detention Center tomorrow. He will stay there pending his sentencing hearing, which could begin by the end of this month.

If Bryson is sentenced to death, his case automatically will be appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, Maryland's second-highest court.

Mr. Hickman said yesterday that it is important to seek the death penalty for Bryson.

"This way, if the defendant is not sentenced to death and gets a life sentence, he will have to serve at least 25 years before he is eligible for parole," the prosecutor said.

If the judge does not sentence Bryson to death, he could sentence the defendant to life without parole, or several life sentences on the murder charges.

Bryson was arrested April 6 after investigators detected his fingerprint on the spent 20-gauge shotgun shell found near the body of Mr. Therit, the popular 51-year-old owner of Deep Run Hardware store.

Mr. Therit was shot in the head at close range with a 20-gauge shotgun stolen from the store March 25, police said.

The murder weapon was found in the woods less than 300 feet from the store two days after Bryson's arrest.

Ballistics experts linked the gun to the spent shell, but no fingerprints were detected on the shotgun.

The eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated for less than two hours yesterday, after a four-hour session Friday afternoon. Deliberations were interrupted until yesterday because of the death of one juror's step-father.

For the second time since he took the bench in 1984, Judge Duckett offered to take the jury, courtroom personnel and sheriff's deputies out to dinner at the Maryland Inn, a historic restaurant two blocks from the courthouse.

HTC "I can't tell you sufficiently how appreciative I am for your involvement in this case," Judge Duckett told the jury before he dismissed them after the verdict.

Throughout the three-week trial, Mr. Hickman tried to stress the brutality of the murder.

"This wasn't so much a murder as it was an execution," he said in his closing arguments last week. "What we have here is an unarmed victim who had to be killed to cover up a crime."

Bryson's attorneys tried to convince the jury that the state's case -- all 120 exhibits and 60 witnesses of it -- was far from conclusive.

"The state wants to execute Mr. Bryson on the evidence before you now," Mr. O'Connor said in his closing arguments.

"Would you send Mr. Bryson to his death based on that evidence? You can't do it. There's not enough," he said.

To cast doubt on the state's case, defense attorneys presented a witness who claimed to have seen Mrs. Therit embracing another man one summer afternoon two years ago. That allegation was dismissed by police early in the murder investigation, and by Mr. Hickman and Judge Duckett during the trial.

Mr. O'Connor also tried to show that state police investigators missed crucial evidence that could have pointed to another killer.

"What you've heard here doesn't tell you who killed him [Mr. Therit]," the defense attorney said. "As homicide investigators go, the state police have shown that they don't have a lot of experience."

Mr. Therit was the only homicide victim in Carroll County last year. The lead investigator on the case, State Police Cpl. Steve Burdelski, has been involved in a handful of murder investigations in his career.

"What the state is trying to do is to bamboozle you into a guilty verdict," Mr. O'Connor told the jury. "They're trying to bury reality under their props and their scores of witnesses. . . . They have proved nothing."

"They're saying somebody else did this crime," countered Mr. Hickman. "Let's see why it was him [Bryson], and not somebody else."

Mr. Hickman displayed for the jury charts showing Bryson's financial and criminal backgrounds, and inconsistencies in his statement to Corporal Burdelski on the night of his arrest.

"The defense is saying we're trying to bamboozle you," Mr. Hickman said. "But the evidence is overwhelming about this man's guilt."

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