Shifting stories central to case

Investigator calls murder suspect's admissions credible

Brill charged in girl's death

Howard County

October 24, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

With a limited amount of forensic evidence linking Scott Jory Brill to the gruesome stabbing death of 14-year-old Ashley Nicole Mason, investigators built their case against the Columbia teen-ager around his frequently changing statements to them - statements that included admissions that he choked the girl and stabbed her once in the stomach after he believed she was dead, a Howard County police detective testified yesterday.

Witnesses who saw Brill after Ashley's death noticed no blood on him, and Ashley's shirt had no slash marks in the stomach area despite Brill's contention that he stabbed her through the fabric, Detective Glenn Case said under cross-examination during the second day of testimony in Brill's murder trial in Howard County Circuit Court.

Case attributed that discrepancy to the darkness in the woods behind the Pizza Hut at Route 108 and Bendix Road, where Ashley's body was discovered Nov. 3. Brill's admissions were credible, he said.

"I've never had anybody admit to a murder they didn't commit," Case said. He noted that a medical examiner told him that none of the 34 stab wounds appeared to have been inflicted after the girl's death, and that Brill's DNA was found on Ashley's ankle.

Brill, 19, is the first of two men charged with first-degree murder in Ashley's death to stand trial. The other defendant, Frederick James Moore, 22, is scheduled to go on trial Nov. 7.

In his statements to police, Brill maintained that Moore instigated the attack and inflicted all but one of the stab wounds.

Prosecutors spent yesterday detailing investigators' efforts to elicit a confession from Brill after anonymous tipsters implied that he might have had a role - active or inactive - in Ashley's death.

Those tips, received in late November, gave investigators the break they were waiting for in a case that at first resulted in few credible leads, Case said. Detectives ruled out Ashley's boyfriend and an ex-boyfriend after taking DNA samples to compare with evidence from the crime scene.

After receiving the tips, they placed Brill and Moore under surveillance, picking up cigarette butts discarded by Brill in order to gather samples of his DNA and noting when Brill and Moore were seen together in early December, Case said.

On Dec. 15, they had Brill brought to the Southern District police station from the Howard County Detention Center, where he was incarcerated for a probation violation.

In a series of interviews conducted that day and on Dec. 21, Brill at first said he knew nothing about Ashley's death but later said that he watched through the side mirror on his car as Moore stabbed the girl and dragged her in the woods. On Dec. 21, after prodding by the detectives, Brill amended his statement to say he choked the girl, but "not all the way," and stabbed her once in the stomach "after she was dead," according to the taped interviews.

As prosecutors played tapes of two of the interviews for Judge Dennis M. Sweeney, who is trying the case instead of a jury, Ashley's mother, Crystal Mason, gripped her daughter's chocolate milk-stained stuffed cat. She and Ashley's family and friends cried as Brill described the violence of the killing.

After three interviews on Dec. 15, Case said, he didn't view Brill as a suspect.

"At that point, we were looking at him as a possible witness - not a very desirable witness, but a possible witness," he said.

Over the next few days, investigators interviewed Brill's mother and sister and a group of men who had been at a get-together in Oakland Mills that Brill and Moore attended with Ashley the night of the killing, Case said. Brill said he and Moore returned to the get-together after Ashley's death, according to the tapes.

By late December, detectives had come to the conclusion that Brill had participated in the killing, Case said.

On the tape recording from a final interview Dec. 21, when Case and Detective Nathan Rettig confronted Brill with their suspicions that he had been more than a witness to the crime, Brill admits his greater participation in the crime with the words, "Can I start over again?" Near the end of the tape, he can be heard sniffling, and asks, "What can, like, a charge be if you stabbed a dead body?"

Brill's statements of Dec. 21 were corroborated in part by a witness who saw Brill after the killing, Case said.

Under questioning from defense attorney Warren A. Brown, Case said Brill maintained that he did not know that Moore was going to stab Ashley and that the pool of blood on the parking lot showed that the stabbing likely started there under lights.

Testimony is scheduled to resume this morning.

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