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Judge sets bail at $500K for Mount Airy man charged with murder

Bail was set in the amount of $500,000 cash for the Mount Airy man charged with murdering his stepfather-in-law and business partner in Eldersburg in the spring of 2019.

Michael Anthony Brown appeared at a bail hearing before Judge Maria Oesterreicher in Carroll County Circuit Court on Tuesday afternoon, one day after being arrested following a grand jury indictment for first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a violent crime.

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Michael Anthony Brown
Michael Anthony Brown

Brown is accused of killing Robert Gurecki, of Hagerstown, who was found shot to death at Retro Environmental Inc., in the 5300 block of Enterprise Street on May 3, 2019. According to his obituary, Gurecki had been president of the company since 2011. He was also a partner at the Washington, D.C., construction company Rath Enterprises, along with Brown.

Joe Pappafotis, of the Baltimore-based firm Alperstein & Diener, represented Brown at the hearing. He argued that Brown has known since at least last November that he was being investigated by law enforcement in connection with the crime, yet he remained in the area, continuing to work and take care of his family.

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Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Brady outlined the state’s case against Brown and asked that he be held without bail on the grounds that he would be a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Oesterreicher ruled bail to be appropriate in the case, setting it at $500,000 not to be paid by a bondsman. She also ordered Brown to surrender his passport and, in the event that he makes bail and is released, that he would be subject to GPS monitoring by the Carroll County Detention Center.

Pappafotis said after the hearing that he was “pleased” by the judge’s decision and the court’s recognition of his client’s presumption of innocence.

“Mr. Brown looks forward to his day in court,” Pappafotis said.

During the hearing, Brady described to the judge part of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office investigation. She said deputies arrived in the Eldersburg business park where Retro Environmental is located after receiving a 911 call and found Gurecki deceased, with a gunshot wound to the head. They also found that Gurecki had $1,600 in cash as well as a Rolex watch on his left wrist, apparently ruling out robbery as a motive. No firearm was found.

Brady continued that the medical examiner’s office found a bullet had gone through the front of Gurecki’s skull as well as evidence that he had been shot at close range. The manner of death was ruled a homicide.

Further investigation found that Gurecki’s cellphone was last used at 6:15 p.m. and his computer went into sleep mode at 6:28 p.m. on May 3, she said.

Brady then told the court that video surveillance picked up Brown arriving at Retro Environmental at 6:30 p.m. on May 3 and at 6:35 he could be seen exiting his vehicle and coming around to the front door. Then, at 6:49, Brown is picked up on camera again, leaving.

“No one else is seen exiting or entering on May 3,” Brady told the court, referring to the time in question.

She also said the Google location data on Brown’s cellphone was deleted at 8:38 p.m., a multistep process that she called “complex.”

In terms of motive, she suggested that Brown was in debt after having purchased a $629,000 home in 2018 on a $104,000 annual salary. She said he had multiple past-due bills.

After Gurecki’s death, Brady said Brown and his wife — Gurecki’s stepdaughter — received $562,488 in a trust and that they subsequently went on a “spending spree” that included paying off credit cards and student loans, purchasing an RV and putting in a pool.

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Brady said Brown still had significant means, making him a flight risk, as well as reason to do so given that a guilty verdict would bring a maximum penalty of a life sentence plus 20 years.

When it was Pappafotis' turn to address the court, he acknowledged the seriousness of the charges, but said that Brown has no prior criminal record, is presumed innocent and referred to the state’s case as “circumstantial.”

He said that Brown had been aware that he was a suspect in the case since at least November, when search warrants were served on him for DNA and for search and seizure at his home and place of work.

Yet Brown remained in the area, despite possessing a passport, kept working at Rath and providing for his family. Since he didn’t leave then, “there’s no reason to believe he would flee,” Pappafotis said, also telling the judge that Brown was not a danger to the community. The attorney also noted that 50 to 60 employees at Rath count on Brown and that his role of CEO within the organization maintains its minority business status.

Oesterreicher called the charges “the most serious of offenses in the court’s mind,” but noted Brown’s lack of a criminal record — not even any serious traffic offenses, she said — in ruling that she would set bail. She said if he is able to post bond, he will be allowed to travel to Washington to work while he awaits his trial.

A grand jury indicted Brown on Thursday, according a news release from the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office. He was arrested on Monday. He appeared in circuit court via videoconference from a room at the detention center on Tuesday.

Gurecki was 56 at the time of his death. He was described Tuesday as the owner of Retro Environmental and was described in his obituary as the company’s CEO and president. He is survived by his mother and wife, along with two stepchildren.

Angela Roberts contributed to this story.

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