Jury finds man guilty of murder in assault at Catonsville bar

Attorney for former military corpsman says he will appeal

July 15 sentencing set

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

A Baltimore County jury found a former military corpsman guilty Thursday of first-degree murder, first-degree assault and other charges in connection with the beating death of a man last year in the men's room of a Catonsville bar.

Testimony in Benjamin W. Shorter's trial wrapped up Wednesday, after a visit by the jury to Morsberger's Tavern, where Franklin J. Schissler died March 29, 2009, of what an autopsy determined was a heart attack caused by the stress of a severe assault. Photographs of the victim were presented to the jury and showed his face bloodied, swollen and bruised, and his left eyelid torn. In all, there were 11 wounds on his face, head, neck and back.

Shorter will be sentenced July 15. His attorney said he will appeal.

The 42-year-old defendant had planned to take the stand in his own defense, against his lawyer's advice, but changed his mind. His attorney argued Wednesday that prosecutors lacked proof that Shorter intended to kill Schissler.

Assistant State's Attorney Matthew H. Darnbrough told the jury in his closing remarks that Shorter's contention in an interview with police that Schissler had provoked a fight with him and that he was merely defending himself was ludicrous and not supported by testimony from witnesses.

During the trial, people who were in the bar that day testified that Shorter had become angry when someone, as a joke, had placed handcuffs on a woman Shorter considered his girlfriend.

When someone else, also in jest, pointed to Schissler as the man responsible for the handcuffing, Shorter followed him into the restroom and began pummeling him with his fists, boots and knees, witnesses said.

"You're killing him," Henry Coates, one of the witnesses, recalled telling Shorter.

"No, I'm just putting him to sleep," Shorter replied in what the prosecutor said was a "somber" tone.

Darnbrough told the jury that Schissler was a 66-year-old obese man who had been treated his entire adult life for schizophrenia but who liked going to the bar to drink beer, which he sipped quietly, usually by himself. He never bothered anyone, patrons said.

Shorter's lawyer, Hossein R. Parvizian, a public defender, said the state had not proved that Shorter intended to kill Schissler. Parvizian asked the jury to 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."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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