Testimony in murder trial starts

Mother recounts attempt to keep her daughter, 14, home

Girl stabbed 34 times

Prosecutors say man bragged

`messy' evidence criticized

October 23, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Crystal Mason had already tracked down her wayward daughter once on Nov. 2 - calling Ashley's friends, knocking on doors and finally finding the 14-year-old outside Jack's, a Long Reach fast-food restaurant.

So when she heard Ashley rummaging through a makeup drawer later that night, she warned the girl not to go out again, Mason testified yesterday in Howard County Circuit Court.

"That's the last time I actually saw her alive," Mason, her voice cracking, said during the first day of testimony in the murder trial of Scott Jory Brill, one of two men accused of killing Ashley.

The next morning, two men in a delivery truck found Ashley's bloody body in some woods behind the Pizza Hut restaurant at Route 108 and Bendix Road. She had been stabbed 34 times - including 19 neck wounds and 10 stomach wounds - prosecutors said yesterday.

Brill, 19, and Frederick James Moore, 22, who partied with Ashley into the early-morning hours of Nov. 3 after she sneaked out of her Black Star Circle townhouse, were charged with first-degree murder six weeks later. Moore's trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 7.

Brill, who opted to have his case tried by Judge Dennis M. Sweeney instead of a jury, told detectives in December that he watched Moore stab Ashley and drag her into the woods, admitting only that he had choked her and stabbed her once in the stomach "after she was dead," according to transcripts of the police interviews that were made public last week.

Prosecutors Michael Rexroad and Kim Oldham called a series of witnesses to set the scene for a murder that they and Brill's defense attorney, Warren A. Brown, said rippled through the community - and shook parents' belief that their kids would be safe in Columbia.

The multiple stab wounds severed arteries and veins in Ashley's neck and fractured her skull, Rexroad said in his opening statement. Brill later bragged to friends that he had "struck" Ashley in the head with a knife and strangled her, Rexroad said.

Brown, in his opening statement, said that "the evidence is as messy as the murder itself," pointing to detectives' trickery during the interview process and questioning the credibility of witnesses who talked to Brill and Moore after the killing.

Ashley's family and friends squeezed onto the courtroom benches, listening to the sometimes graphic testimony, many wearing buttons containing a photo of Ashley and the words, "You will live in our hearts forever."

Crystal Mason testified yesterday that her daughter grew up in Highland, in southern Howard County, taking dance lessons, playing the violin and riding horses. She was involved in a lot of activities and had a wide circle of friends, Mason said. But after her parents divorced a few years ago, the teen-ager began to change, Mason said. Mason and Ashley moved into a townhouse in Long Reach in July last year.

On Nov. 2, Mason said, she woke up to find Ashley gone and called police to report the 14-year-old as a runaway. But she later found Ashley hanging out with a boy with spiked blond hair outside Jack's, she said. Later that night, about 9:30, she said, the phone rang and Ashley grabbed it.

The next morning, Ashley was gone. Mason said she figured her daughter "did it again." She called police but did not file another runaway report, she said.

"I started panicking, started to cry," she said.

About 10:45 a.m. that day, Irvin Fornoff, who was driving a delivery truck for Standard Medical, missed his exit and pulled into the Pizza Hut's back lot. As he drove, he testified, a pool of blood - and a set of bloody "drag marks" - caught his eye and he stopped to investigate.

Ashley was lying on her back in the woods, wearing underwear and with her tank top rolled up. The trail from the parking lot to the body was "sticky," Fornoff said.

Ashley's body was about 30 feet from the curb, crime scene technician Doug Read said. About 5 feet away and suspended in the green briars were two hair coverings, called doo rags, he said. During his opening statement, Rexroad said the rags contained Moore's DNA. Ashley's windbreaker was also found in the woods, about 25 feet from her body, Read said.

Based on the marks on Ashley's back, technicians swabbed her ankles for DNA, figuring she had been dragged by the ankles into the woods, Read said. Rexroad said during his opening statement that Brill's DNA was found on at least one of Ashley's ankles.

Brown questioned Read about whether technicians had swabbed higher on Ashley's legs, saying she could just as easily have been grabbed under the knees. They did not, Read said, because the abrasions showed Ashley had been close to the ground when she was dragged.

Testimony is scheduled to resume this morning.

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