Portraits of killer conflict Judge to choose in sentencing

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

ANNAPOLIS -- Convicted murderer Michael Clay Bryson Sr. is a deeply troubled 26-year-old haunted by a dysfunctional family and a lengthy history of alcohol and drug abuse.

Or, he's a cold-blooded killer who would lie to anyone if it would help get him out of trouble.

These two conflicting portraits of Bryson emerged yesterday from the defense and prosecution, respectively, during the first day of Bryson's sentencing hearing in Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

Bryson, of Manchester, was convicted early this year of first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder, robbery, armed robbery, battery and theft in the March 25, 1992 shotgun slaying of Melrose hardware store owner Charles W. Therit. After the verdict, the defendant opted to be sentenced by Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr. instead of by the trial jury.

The conflicting descriptions of Bryson are what Judge Duckett has in front of him during the three-day hearing as he decides what sentence to impose.

The judge can sentence Bryson to death in the state's gas chamber, life without parole or life with the possibility of parole.

Richard O'Connor and Ronald Hogg, Bryson's attorneys, said that a sentence of life with the possibility of parole would be a "substantial victory."

Yesterday, defense attorneys presented two expert witnesses who described a long-suffering man whose shattered family life led him to an addiction to alcohol and drug abuse.

"Michael was out of control," said Hans H. Selvog, a licensed clinical social worker hired by Bryson's attorneys.

Mr. Selvog told Judge Duckett of Bryson's formative years, when he learned as a teen-ager that his older brother had been adopted, when he skipped as many as 75 days of school a year and when he failed to make the baseball team at North Carroll High.

"He did not measure up to his father's standards, he was the ugly duckling, if you will, and he was feeling dejected," the social worker testified. "All of that led to substance abuse."

Nick Giampietro, an addictions counselor also hired by the defense, testified that Bryson started drinking when he was 12 ++ and became addicted to cocaine at 19.

Mr. Giampietro, who interviewed Bryson for 2 1/2 hours in February, said he is certain Bryson was an alcoholic who drank as much as a case of beer a night. He could not say, however, whether Bryson was drinking the night he went into the Deep Run Hardware store and shot Mr. Therit in the head with a shotgun he stole from a case behind the store's counter.

Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman, who is seeking the death penalty for only the third time since its reinstatement in Maryland, attempted to discredit both defense witnesses. He pointed to a January 1992 alcohol evaluation in which Bryson was found not to be an alcoholic.

He asked Mr. Giampietro whether his test or the test a year earlier was accurate.

"Is your goal to prove that he lied to me," the addictions counselor asked Mr. Hickman.

"There's no question he lied to you," the prosecutor retorted.

Mr. Hickman said Bryson would have a motive to lie to Mr. Giampietro because of the possibility of being convicted of first-degree murder.

The prosecutor presented two witnesses yesterday.

One testified to Bryson's disorderly conduct while he was an inmate in the Carroll County Detention Center.

The other told the judge of a 1990 assault in which Bryson shoved a co-worker to the ground and hit him in the head.

Testimony from three additional defense witnesses is expected today.

Judge Duckett is expected to impose sentence by tomorrow.

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