Bryson trial could go to jury, defense says


ANNAPOLIS -- Michael C. Bryson Sr.'s death-penalty murder case could go to the jury tomorrow, his attorneys said yesterday.

With the second half of testimony from the prosecution's last witness scheduled this morning in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, Mr. Bryson's attorneys said they expected to present their entire case by this afternoon.

"We want to keep you in suspense," defense attorney Richard O'Connor said yesterday when he was asked whether he would call his client to the stand tomorrow.

He did not say who would testify for the defense.

Mr. Bryson, 26, of Manchester, has been on trial since Feb. 16. He was charged April 6 with first-degree murder, armed robbery and five related counts tied to the shotgun slaying March 25 of Melrose hardware store owner Charles W. Therit.

Mr. Therit, the popular owner of Deep Run Hardware, was shot in the head at close range with a Brazilian-made 20-gauge shotgun stolen from the store during a $140 robbery.

The bulk of yesterday's testimony recounted the final hours of the Therit murder investigation, in which a call to the Westminster state police barracks from a fingerprint expert led to Mr. Bryson's arrest.

The two arresting officers testified that Mr. Bryson -- who was taken into custody at a friend's house after watching the Orioles' 1992 home opener on television -- was calm and talkative.

"It's just a formality, it's just a formality. I'll take care of it," Mr. Bryson said to his friends as he was being taken away, according to testimony from state police Cpl. Steve Burdelski.

During the car ride from Manchester to the Westminster state police barracks, Mr. Bryson told Corporal Burdelski that he didn't kill Mr. Therit.

"It doesn't make sense. Why would I kill Mr. Therit for money?" Tfc. Douglas Wehland recalled Mr. Bryson saying.

Mr. Bryson made another statement to the officers when they got to the barracks. That statement was tape-recorded and was scheduled to be played for the jury today.

The tape will feature Mr. Bryson disputing that he was at Deep Run Hardware on the night of the murder.

Prosecutors contend that the evidence presented in the case so far shows otherwise. Mr. Bryson's fingerprints were found on a glass counter top in the store, on a box of ammunition and on another shotgun behind the counter.

His fingerprints also were found on the spent 20-gauge shotgun shell found near Mr. Therit's body. Police crime technicians determined that the shell was fired from a 20-gauge Stoeger shotgun that was found 300 feet from the store two days after Mr. Bryson's arrest.

If Mr. Bryson is convicted, he will have the option to request that either the jury or Circuit Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr., who is presiding over the case, decide his sentence.

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