Defendant was calm before shooting, victim's mother testifies

January 20, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

A Glen Burnie woman told an Anne Arundel Circuit Court yesterday that her daughter's former fiance seemed calm and rational when he showed up at her door one night last May -- and that he was still calm after he pumped three bullets into her daughter.

Dorothy Shifflett said she heard gunshots about 5:30 p.m. May 17. She testified that she rushed out of her home in the 7800 block of Glen Ridge Drive and found her daughter, Loretta Lynn Shifflett, lying on the doorstep with a gunshot wound in her chest.

Gregory Edward Byrd, her daughter's former fiance, was standing over the body, only now he was pointing a 9 mm handgun at her, Mrs. Shifflett said. Mr. Byrd lowered his weapon, got in his car and drove off, she testified.

"He went walking toward his car, and then I got down and picked my daughter up," Mrs. Shifflett said, near tears.

Her testimony came in the first day of the trial for Mr. Byrd of the 1700 block of Wilson Ave., Lansdowne. He is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Ms. Shifflett, 23.

Mr. Byrd had been engaged to Ms. Shifflett, according to testimony. The two had dated for 18 months, lived together for 14 months and had set a wedding date for June 1993.

But Ms. Shifflett broke off the relationship about three weeks before she was killed. She had moved back in with her mother and was seeing another man, according to testimony.

Mr. Byrd was arrested the day after the slaying by police who used telephone records to track him to

the home of a Salisbury acquaintance, according to testimony.

Mr. Byrd's attorney, T. Joseph Touhey of Glen Burnie, acknowledged in opening statements yesterday that there is no question his client fired the fatal shots.

He said he will argue that Mr. Byrd -- who tried to commit suicide twice, was distraught over the breakup and wanted Ms. Shifflett back -- is guilty of second-degree murder rather than first-degree murder.

Second-degree murder carries a 30-year maximum sentence.

"What was his state of mind when he went to the house that night? That's the question here," Mr. Touhey said.

Mr. Touhey said one of his client's friends will testify that Mr. Byrd was "drunk out of his mind" an hour before the murder.

The friend also will testify that Mr. Byrd told him that he was going to the house to beg Ms. Shifflett to come back to him and that if she refused he was going to shoot himself in front of her.

Mr. Touhey said that while Mr. Byrd was at Ms. Shifflett's house the night of the shooting, she received a telephone call from her rival suitor that threw Mr. Byrd into a jealous rage.

Mr. Byrd had gone with his mother to Taylor Manor Hospital on May 9 and told a psychiatrist that he wanted to kill both himself and Ms. Shifflett, according to prosecuting and defense lawyers.

The psychiatrist, who is expected to testify, told Howard County police to warn Ms. Shifflett about the threat and issued an emergency commitment ordering Mr. Byrd to be held under guard for psychiatric care.

But under state statute, such psychiatric commitment orders are effective for only 72 hours. Mr. Byrd had left the hospital grounds and could not be located by police within the 72-hour period, Mr. Touhey said.

"It wasn't any hospital or police department's fault. He was just all over the place and didn't stay in any one place long enough to be located," Mr. Touhey said.

Assistant State's Attorney Cynthia Ferris said she will argue that Mr. Byrd's purchase of a handgun three days before the murder, his threats against Ms. Shifflett to the psychiatrist and threats against her he made to friends before the shooting all point to premeditated murder.

She noted that after buying the gun, Mr. Byrd purchased a set of "Black Talon" hollow-point bullets that are so deadly they have since been taken off the market for civilian use.

"They're so controversial and so deadly ordinary citizens can't even purchase them anymore," she said.

The trial is expected to run until Tuesday.

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