Nurse's killer also threatened her, woman says Co-defendant in the case is being tried separately

January 05, 1996|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Bronwyn Byers told a Baltimore County jury yesterday that she had planned to spend her birthday with a college friend in New York last February, but first gave her roommate a lift -- and wound up in what prosecutors called "a slaughterhouse on wheels" on Interstate 83.

So on her 25th birthday, Ms. Byers found herself charged with murder and robbery, along with her roommate, in the Feb. 10 stabbing of Myra Elaine Harrison, 30, a Johns Hopkins Hospital nurse.

The roommate, Latina Smith, 24, is a fugitive. She was tried separately and convicted of first-degree murder and robbery with a deadly weapon, but jumped bail and failed to return to court for the verdict Dec. 13.

Today, jurors are to hear final arguments and instructions from Judge Dana M. Levitz, then begin deliberations in the trial of Ms. Byers on the same charges.

"I couldn't believe that this was happening to me," Ms. Byers testified about her arrest. She said she was attending Morgan State University, had been promoted in her job at a pharmaceutical company, and was in the Army Reserve.

But that morning, she said, she agreed to drive Smith from their West Fayette Street apartment to meet Ms. Harrison, with whom Smith had a dispute over a $50 debt.

Ms. Byers said she was driving on the Jones Falls Expressway near the Pepsi sign with the other two women in the car when she heard Ms. Harrison say she couldn't breathe and saw blood on her chest. She said she tried to leave the expressway for a hospital, but Smith told her, "Keep driving, or you'll be next."

Under cross-examination by Assistant State's Attorney Angela R. White, Ms. Byers denied that the victim screamed or did anything unusual until then -- although there were seven stab wounds and the car was bloody.

"I panicked," she said. "I couldn't believe what was going on. I just kept going. I saw the knife in Tina's hand. She was not the same someone that I knew." Smith also threatened her with a gun, she said.

Lost and in shock, she said, she drove into northern Baltimore County, where Smith dragged the body from the car and down a ditch. Ms. Byers had about three minutes alone. In response to questions from her attorney, William M. Monfried, she said she didn't know why she didn't flee.

The women were arrested quickly the same day because John Head of Monkton was riding his horse. He told the jury his curiosity was aroused by a woman digging in snow off Carroll Road, near Sparks Road.

His description of Ms. Byers' blue 1980 Chevrolet Malibu led to the arrests.

Police saw the car and cornered it on a dead-end road in Phoenix. Officers testified that the car was soaked with blood and a 12-inch kitchen knife was recovered from Smith's sock.

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