Chemist accused of deadly obsession

Frederick Co. man pleads not guilty in harassment case

June 10, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Alan B. Chmurny,a chemist with a Ph.D. from M.I.T., was "obsessed" with a former colleague and one day in April poured mercury, a toxic substance, into the heating and air-conditioning ducts of the woman's car, Howard County authorities said yesterday.

More than a month later, police arrested the Frederick County man after a sting operation that included a night-vision camera and searches that revealed a vial of mercury in Chmurny's car and suspected locks of the woman's hair at his home.

"This is not an ordinary case," said Howard County Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell. "This is a potential nightmare."

Mercury in high doses, if inhaled or ingested, can cause serious illness or death.

Chmurny, 56, has pleaded not guilty to assault, burglary, harassment and stalking charges. He is serving probation in another harassment case involving the same woman.

In an hour-long pre-trial hearing yesterday in Ellicott City, prosecutors sought to stiffen Chmurny's bail, set by a District Court commissioner after the chemist's arrest last week, because they said he ignored earlier court orders to avoid the victim, MartaBradley, and her husband, Scott, of North Laurel.

A District Court judge agreed yesterday to increase the bond, though not so high as prosecutors had hoped, and ordered Chmurny held on home detention, pending his trial. Prosecutors said they would seek an indictment in the case.

During and after the hearing, Chmurny's attorney attacked the case.

"There are a lot of unsubstantiated allegations that will be subject to our version of what happened," said the attorney, Steven D. Kupferberg."All that glitters is not gold."

Silvery liquid

In April, Marta Bradley walked outside her home to retrieve tax documents from her Ford Taurus, police said. When she opened the door, she noticed a silvery liquid on the seats and dashboard, and called authorities.

Investigators found more of the substance - which was later confirmed to be mercury - in the heating and air-conditioning ducts, they said. Marta Bradley told authorities that she suspected Chmurny of putting the mercury in the car, because he had stalked her in the past, authorities said.

Waiting for a visitor

Instead of towing away the car, which was ruined by the mercury exposure, police left it in front of the Bradleys' house and set up a night-vision video camera to observe it.

Then they waited, officials said, for someone to visit the scene.

On May 31, a neighbor told police that she observed a man near the car, but he hurried away when headlights hit him, authorities said. The neighbor later identified the suspect in a photo line-up as Chmurny, police said.

Police also reviewed the surveillance tapes, which showed a man in a tan jacket and a baseball cap tampering with the Taurus on three different nights and entering the car twice. One time, the man stole the Bradleys' garbage, police said.

Police later searched Chmurny's home and car, as well as his office at a Beltsville biotechnology company, Biospherics. In the car, police found a small vial of mercury, they said, and later learned that a similar container was missing from his firm.

Unsettling riddle

At Chmurny's home, authorities said, they found clothes that resembled those worn by the man videotaped near the car. They discovered maps of the Bradleys' home, printouts of Marta Bradley's e-mail letters, garbage from their home, locks of hair believed to be Marta Bradley's and keys that opened the Taurus. Police found other keys that matched ones to the Bradleys' former home and to Scott Bradley's Chevrolet, they said.

Police also recovered what they described as an old piece of paper with a riddle on it about Marta Bradley, who apparently is a musician.

It read: "Question: What's the difference between Marta Bradley and a female bass player that is going to be raped, castrated, have her face mutilated and then have all her fingers on both hands cut off? Answer: There is no difference."

Chmurny's lawyer says that his client complained to Frederick County prosecutors "months ago" that the Bradleys had mailed him their keys and other items.

Since meeting Marta Bradley several years ago at another biotechnology firm where they had both worked, Chmurny has been charged with assault, harassment and burglary on three separate occasions in incidents tied to the Bradleys.

The burglary case - in which Chmurny was accused of entering the Bradleys' home and stealing underwear and jewelry - was put on the inactive docket, which essentially tabled the case.

Earlier case

In a 1998 case, Chmurny was ordered to serve three years of probation after he made an Alford plea to a harassment charge involving the Bradleys.

Though treated as a guilty plea, an Alford plea is not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgment that prosecutors could prove their case.

Chmurny was charged with assault a few months later and accused of assaulting Scott Bradley in Baltimore. He was acquitted of all charges, but his probation in the harassment case was extended three years as a result of the criminal case.

At yesterday's hearing, District Court Judge Neil E. Axelincreased Chmurny's bail from 10 percent of $50,000 to the full $50,000, though prosecutors had requested that it be raised to $500,000. Axel also ordered Chmurny to be supervised by probation agents, pending his trial.

Fired from Biospherics after his arrest, Chmurny can search for work and is permitted to visit his attorneys and probation agents, Axel said.

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