Man guilty of murder in beating at Catonsville bar

Former military corpsman found to have pummeled another man to death after "practical joke" goes awry

May 20, 2010|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

A former military corpsman was found guilty Thursday of first-degree murder and five other charges in the beating death of a mentally ill man last year in the men's room of a Catonsville bar.

A Baltimore County jury concluded that Benjamin W. Shorter, 42, had pummeled the victim with such force that he caused his death. Jurors were told that rather than render medical aid to the choking, bloodied victim, as he had been trained to do in the military, Shorter fled from the bar. He was arrested 10 hours later in a friend's Porsche after attending a barbecue.

Shorter will be sentenced July 15. Prosecutors plan to ask Circuit Judge Michael J. Finifter to impose a prison term of life without parole.

The defendant's lawyer argued that prosecutors had not proved that Shorter intended to kill the 66-year-old victim, Franklin J. Schissler.

A prosecutor described Schissler as an obese man who had been treated his entire adult life for paranoid schizophrenia but who around the time of his death had been well enough to be allowed out of the Spring Grove Hospital Center, a psychiatric facility a few blocks from Morsberger's Tavern. Schissler liked going to the bar, where he sipped beer quietly, usually by himself. He never bothered anyone, patrons said.

On the afternoon of March 29, 2009, patrons testified, the defendant became angry when someone, as a joke, placed handcuffs on Elaine M. Monet, whom Shorter — despite his marriage to another woman — referred to as his girlfriend. When another person at the bar, also in jest, pointed to Schissler as the man responsible, witnesses said, Shorter followed him into the restroom and began beating and kicking him.

"You're killing him!" Henry Coates, a witness, recalled yelling at Shorter, trim and muscular at 200 pounds.

"No, I'm just putting him to sleep," Coates said Shorter replied.

An autopsy determined that Schissler, who suffered from cardiovascular disease, died of a heart attack caused by the stress of the assault.

Assistant State's Attorney Matthew H. Darnbrough dismissed Shorter's account to police that Schissler had started the fight and that he was defending himself as not supported by witnesses' testimony. The prosecutor showed the jury a photo of a single scratch on the defendant's left arm.

Shorter's lawyer, assistant public defender Hossein R. Parvizian, said he would appeal. In closing remarks to jurors, Parvizian asked that they put themselves in his client's shoes, and "take into consideration a guy whose life has been disrupted by this -- to all intents and purposes -- practical joke."

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