Columbia woman, 25, indicted on first-degree murder charge

April 08, 2005|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

A Columbia woman accused of strangling a friend and fellow Loyola College doctoral student has been indicted by a grand jury on a first-degree murder charge - a more serious offense than police had initially indicated.

Melissa Burch Harton, 25, of the 5600 block of Columbia Road, was originally charged with second-degree murder.

The first-degree murder indictment by the grand jury Wednesday shows that the jury felt there was evidence that the crime was premeditated.

The state is now seeking to revoke or increase the bond of Harton, who was released on $100,000 bond last month.

A trial date has not been set.

Howard County State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone would not comment because the case is pending.

Harton is accused of killing Natasha A. Bacchus, 31, of Stewartstown, Pa. Both women earned master's degrees in psychology in 2004 from Loyola.

During Harton's bond hearing last month, Assistant Public Defender Janette DeBoissiere said the case could involve "possible self-defense."

She said Harton had abrasions on her neck and bruises on her legs and arms. She also said the two women had been "drinking [alcohol] over a long period of time."

According to charging documents, the two women got into a physical altercation in the early morning of March 9 at the Centennial Lane entrance to Centennial Park.

Harton told police that she hit and choked Bacchus, the documents state.

Harton helped Bacchus into her vehicle and drove to the Dorsey Hall pool, in the 4600 block of Columbia Road, and placed Bacchus - who was unconscious and not breathing - in the parking lot, according to the documents.

DeBoissiere said Harton asked a passerby to call police.

A neighbor walking through the area discovered Bacchus' body about 7 a.m. March 9 on the parking lot.

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