Man is convicted of killing ex-fiancee

January 26, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

An Anne Arundel Circuit judge convicted a 30-year-old Lansdowne man of first-degree murder yesterday, ruling that his shooting of his former fiancee at her house in Glen Burnie last May was premeditated.

Gregory Edward Byrd of the 1700 block of Wilson Ave. was convicted by Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. in the May 17, 1993, death of Loretta Lynn Shifflett, 23.

Byrd's lawyers admitted in the four-day trial that he fired the three shots that killed Ms. Shifflett of the 7800 block of Twin Ridge Drive. But they argued that he was too drunk to form the intent to kill, making the crime second-degree murder.

Judge Thieme conceded that Byrd probably was drunk at the time of the killing. But he said Byrd planned to kill Ms. Shifflett, who had broken their engagement three weeks earlier, before he got drunk.

He said he was convinced that Byrd went to Ms. Shifflett's house about 5 p.m. that night determined to win her back or kill her if she refused him.

Byrd showed no emotion at the judge's decision. His parents hugged each other on a bench a few rows behind their son, and the victim's mother, Dorothy Shifflett, began sobbing softly into a tissue.

The Byrds said later they are convinced their son's mental problems caused him to kill Ms. Shifflett.

"Go home tonight and thank God that it doesn't happen to anyone in your family because mental illness is a terrible, terrible thing," said Darlene Byrd.

First-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence. Second-degree carries a 30-year maximum. Judge Thieme scheduled sentencing for Feb. 11.

In closing arguments yesterday, T. Joseph Touhey, one of Byrd's lawyers, said his client has a history of depression and continuous drinking. He said Byrd's mental problems led him to try to commit suicide twice before Ms. Shifflett broke off their yearlong engagement April 30, 1993.

Mr. Touhey argued that his client went to see Ms. Shifflett the day of the murder only to woo her back, but that an ill-timed phone call from a rival suitor threw him into a jealous rage that was inflamed by Byrd's drunken state at the time.

"This man, on this date, had been drinking for weeks on end. He was obviously out of control," Mr. Touhey said. "The fact of the matter is he was totally consumed with love for this woman."

But Cynthia Ferris, assistant state's attorney, argued that Byrd's actions were rational and calculated.

A week before the murder, she said, Byrd's mother took him to Taylor Manor Hospital, where a psychiatrist heard his homicidal threats and tried to commit him.

But Byrd bolted from the hospital before he could be committed, according to testimony.

She said he bought the 9mm handgun three days before the murder and later bought the bullets for it at a Glen Burnie sporting goods store.

She noted that he repeatedly told friends he was planning to kill Ms. Shifflett, that he concealed the gun in his belt when he walked up the sidewalk to her house that day and that he "gritted his teeth" as he pulled the trigger.

Byrd may have been drinking before he shot Ms. Shifflett, but that was likely his way of getting up the nerve to carry out the killing, she said.

"So what if the alcohol was a form of liquid courage to him?" Ms. Ferris asked.

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