Psychiatrist says he tried to hospitalize defendant before murder

January 21, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

A hospital psychiatrist told an Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge yesterday that he tried to commit Gregory Edward Byrd a week before Mr. Byrd killed his former fiancee, but that Mr. Byrd bolted from the doctor's office before he could summon hospital security.

Dr. Deoroop Gurprasad, a staff psychiatrist at Taylor Manor Hospital in Ellicott City, said Mr. Byrd came to the hospital with his mother May 9. During an examination he repeatedly threatened to kill Loretta Lynn Shifflett, who recently had broken up with him.

He said he asked Mr. Byrd, 29, of the 1700 block of Wilson Ave., Lansdowne, to commit himself voluntarily to the hospital. Mr. Byrd agreed and started filling out the hospital forms, but changed his mind when he learned that he could be held longer than a few days.

"He said something like, 'I'm out of here,' and he bolted through the door," Dr. Gurprasad said.

He said he issued an emergency commitment order and contacted police to pick up Mr. Byrd, but police were unable to locate him.

Mr. Byrd is accused of shooting Ms. Shifflett, 23, after she answered the door at her house in the 7800 block of Twin Ridge Drive, Glen Burnie, about 5:30 p.m. May 17.

According to testimony yesterday by Dorothy Shifflett, the victim's mother, Mr. Byrd showed up at the Shifflett house three weeks after she broke off their engagement and he shot her three times.

Yesterday, Dr. Gurprasad said Mr. Byrd "stated that he kept pondering whether to kill his girlfriend or to kill her and her new boyfriend, too. It made me feel we were dealing with something very lethal here."

Dr. Gurprasad said Mr. Byrd was potentially suicidal after the 23-year-old victim broke up with him, but those urges eventually gave way to a desire for revenge, he said.

Mr. Byrd had dated Ms. Shifflett for 18 months, had lived with her for 14 months and the couple had set a wedding date for June 1993, according to testimony.

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

Police used telephone records of Mr. Byrd's friends to track him to the home of a Salisbury acquaintance, where they arrested him the day after the murder.

The trial, being heard without a jury by Judge Raymond G. Thieme, Jr., is focusing on whether the killing was a first-degree or second degree murder. First-degree murder carries a life sentence, and second-degree murder carries a 30-year maximum sentence.

Prosecutors say that Mr. Byrd plotted to kill Ms. Shifflett, the element necessary for first-degree murder, while defense lawyers say Mr. Byrd planned to kill himself, not Ms. Shifflett.

T. Joseph Touhey, one of Mr. Byrd's lawyers, said he will present evidence next week showing Mr. Byrd was distraught over the break-up, was drunk at the time of the murder and told a friend just before it that if Ms. Shifflett refused to come back to him, he would shoot himself in front of her.

But yesterday, prosecution witnesses said Mr. Byrd purchased the 9 mm handgun he used a week before the murder and then separately purchased hollow point bullets.

In testimony yesterday, three of Mr. Byrd's friends said that he repeatedly threatened to kill Ms. Shifflett in the days before the murder.

Tina Bruce, a 25-year-old friend from Catonsville, said that Mr. Byrd called her about 1:30 a.m. on the day of the murder.

"He said that he had just bought a gun on Friday and he was going to shoot her, and he was going to let her boyfriend live so he could see how he had messed things up," she said.

The trial is expected to conclude Tuesday.

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