Breon C. English, a key prosecution witness against a teen-ager accused of killing the manager of a Hunt Valley fast-food restaurant, said yesterday that he got "mixed up" when he told different stories to two juries about who struck the first blows the night of the killing.
English, 17, told a Baltimore County Circuit Court jury that Courtney D. Bryant was the first to hit James W. Stambaugh Jr., the 21-year-old Burger King manager. However, under cross-examination by Bryant's lawyer, English admitted that he had testified in September at the trial of co-defendant Andre Lawson that Lawson struck the first blow.
"I was mixed up," said English, who insisted yesterday that Bryant was the first to hit the manager. Bryant, 19, is the last of four defendants to be tried in the killing and robbery at the restaurant last December. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Bryant's lawyer, Timothy Gunning, suggested English changed his story to accommodate prosecutors, who agreed not to seek a sentence of life without parole against English in exchange for his testimony. English pleaded guilty to murder in May.
Gunning has admitted to the jury that Bryant took part in the killing but has suggested it was not premeditated. Prosecutors Marsha Russell and Mickey Norman have called several witnesses who have placed Bryant at the Burger King during the attack and others who testified that he told them he killed Stambaugh.
Gunning said yesterday that if Bryant is convicted of murder, he will ask Judge Alexander Wright Jr., rather than the jury, to decide whether his client should be put to death. He will also ask that sentencing be postponed for 30 days so he can prepare witnesses to testify on Bryant's behalf.
The trial is expected to go to the jury today.
Yesterday, Dr. Joseph Pestaner, an assistant state medical examiner, testified that Stambaugh suffered stab wounds from a knife and and skull fractures after being attacked with a construction tool and a kitchen implement.
On Friday, English testified that he watched Bryant strike Stambaugh several times in the face with the construction tool.