Suspect picked up naked in chapel

Man held in fatal Catonsville stabbing was Tasered, hospitalized briefly in Pa.

November 27, 2008|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,jennifer.mcmenamin@baltsun.com

In the 55 hours between the apparently random fatal stabbing of a woman at a Catonsville liquor store and the arrest of the man Baltimore County police charged with the killing, the suspect had an unusual run-in with police in Pennsylvania.

David A. Briggs, 23, was found naked Sunday night in the empty chapel of a homeless shelter in the Pittsburgh area. Police used a stun gun to subdue Briggs before taking him to a local hospital, where he was sedated and later picked up by his father, a sergeant with the Washington, Pa., Police Department said yesterday.

"He was reading from Revelations and talking about the end of the world and the end of his life," said Sgt. David Bradley, who was one of the first officers to arrive at the Washington City Mission after staff there called police for help in dealing with the man who had stripped his clothes off in their chapel and wouldn't respond to them.

"He made a comment that he had sinned," the sergeant said. "We really didn't know what he was talking about. He wasn't wanted at that point. Baltimore [County] police apparently were still putting the pieces of the puzzle together."

Baltimore County police did not start looking for Briggs until Monday, when investigators matched fingerprints lifted at the liquor store crime scene with those on file for Briggs, who was convicted last year of burglarizing a house with some friends, according to court documents. He was sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation and 80 hours of community service for that crime.

Briggs was arrested Monday night at the home he shares with his father, which is between Catonsville and Woodlawn and less than a mile from the liquor store.

He was charged with first-degree murder in the death of 24-year-old Aysha D. Ring, who was stabbed in the neck and wrist while waiting in line to pay for her purchases, according to court documents. Police said the victim and assailant did not know each other.

Defense attorney Arthur M. Frank, who represented Briggs in last year's burglary case and agreed yesterday to represent him in the murder case, said he could not talk about his client's interactions with Pennsylvania police over the weekend. He also said he could not discuss whether something might have triggered such behavior in a young man with no apparent history of violent crimes or mental illness.

But Frank did say that after Briggs is indicted, he will file a plea of not criminally responsible - Maryland's equivalent of the insanity defense - and will file a motion that he is not competent to stand trial.

Reached Tuesday night, the defendant's father, Carlton Briggs, said his son "obviously ... has some mental problems." He declined to comment yesterday.

It's not clear what took David Briggs to Pennsylvania.

Cpl. Mike Hill, a Baltimore County police spokesman, said that county homicide detectives were talking yesterday with Pennsylvania authorities, but he would not comment on anything they've learned.

"We did not identify him as a suspect until early Monday afternoon. We didn't even know who David Briggs was before then," Hill said. "So it's just dumb fate that he would have gone up there and had contact with police up there hours after murdering a woman here and nobody knew."

Pennsylvania State Police found Briggs sitting in his truck along Interstate 70 on Sunday afternoon and took him to the Washington City Mission, where they asked shelter staff to look after him while he waited for his father to pick him up.

"He said he was tired and hadn't eaten for a while," said Bradley, the sergeant with the Washington, Pa., Police Department.

Briggs arrived about 4 p.m. at the shelter, where he declined their offer of food but did sleep, said Tim Hogan, a spokesman for the Washington City Mission, a Christian homeless rehabilitation center about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. About four hours later, the mission's house manager found Briggs kneeling at the altar in the chapel.

"He didn't think too much of it," Hogan said. "But then the man started taking his shirt off. He asked him not to do that. And when he got closer, he realized he was wearing nothing. The shirt was the last item to go."

By the time police arrived a few minutes later, Briggs was standing behind the lectern with a Bible in front of him. "He was chanting and making rhythmic sounds that were mostly unintelligible," Hogan said. "It was mostly gibberish."

Briggs - who is 6 foot 3 and weighs about 310 pounds, according to court records - ignored several requests from police to put his clothes back on.

"He wouldn't respond," Bradley said. "He wouldn't even look at us. We didn't want to fight with him. We just wanted to get him in an ambulance."

After stunning Briggs several times with a Taser, the officers put him on a stretcher and took him to a hospital. When Briggs' father arrived to collect his son, he told the officers that a friend of his had just been murdered and that his grandfather had died, the police sergeant said.

Briggs, who waived a bail review hearing yesterday, is being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center without bail.

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