Defense tries to cast doubt on robbery link in killing


ANNAPOLIS -- Carroll prosecutors failed to show that defendant Michael C. Bryson Sr. stole anything the night that Melrose hardware store owner Charles W. Therit was killed in a robbery, defense attorneys argued yesterday.

In trying to convince Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr. to acquit their client on first-degree murder, armed robbery and five other counts, defense attorney Richard O'Connor said the state failed to link Mr. Bryson to the $140 stolen from Mr. Therit's Deep Run Hardware Store or to a gun and a box of shells found nearby.

"In a circumstantial case, the evidence must be inconsistent with all reasonable hypotheses of doubt," Mr. O'Connor said, before Judge Duckett denied his motion for acquittal in the death penalty case.

Mr. Bryson, 26, of Manchester, was arrested and charged April 6 in Mr. Therit's death after his fingerprints were detected on the spent 20-gauge shotgun shell found near the victim's body.

He did not testify at the trial.

"Hypotheses of doubt" are what Mr. O'Connor and co-counsel Ronald Hogg tried to present yesterday to the trial jury in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

Kevin Bryson, the defendant's younger brother, said that he gave Michael Bryson $100 in $20 bills.

Prosecutors asked Kevin Bryson why he waited until now to disclose the loan to his brother. He said it was because police never asked him directly if he lent any money to Michael Bryson.

The loan disclosure was meant to weaken the prosecution's assertion that the defendant, in the days after the March 25 slaying, possessed more money than he possibly could have earned at his job or obtained from his friends or family. Prosecutors contend that the money Michael Bryson had points to his possessing stolen money, and they contend it was stolen from Mr. Therit's store.

By trying to weaken the prosecution's armed robbery case, Mr. Bryson's attorneys hope that even if jurors convict him of first-degree murder they will acquit him of armed robbery. If there is no armed robbery conviction, the death penalty cannot be imposed.

On Tuesday, a Carroll County man who said he had known the Therits for 15 years testified for the defense that he saw Mr. Therit's wife, Faye, embracing another man at Prettyboy Reservoir one summer afternoon two years ago. Defense attorneys suggested that the alleged embrace could point to a relationship in which one of the people involved was driven to kill Mr. Therit.

Police detectives ruled out such a romantic link early in the murder investigation, and a co-worker of the man who said he saw the liaison -- called as a rebuttal witness by prosecutors yesterday -- cast doubt on the possibility.

"Was the woman you saw that day Faye Therit?" Assistant State's Attorney Clarence "Buddy" Beall asked Carroll Hetrick.

"I don't know who it was," the witness said.

The evidence portion of the trial ended yesterday after prosecutors presented four other rebuttal witnesses.

Closing arguments were scheduled for tomorrow to give Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman and Mr. Beall time to prepare their arguments. Defense attorneys said yesterday they were prepared to proceed with their closings.

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