ANNAPOLIS -- Jury deliberations in Carroll resident Michael C. Bryson Sr.'s capital murder trial were delayed yesterday by the death of a juror's stepfather.
The jury, which deliberated for four hours Friday, was released early yesterday by Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr., the trial judge.
Judge Duckett told the jurors to come back to court Thursday to resume deliberations in the trial of Mr. Bryson of Manchester, who is accused of killing Melrose hardware store owner Charles W. Therit in a robbery last March.
The death of the juror's relative Friday night is the fourth to hit the trial since it began in January. In addition to the juror's stepfather, the defendant's father died Jan. 31; the father of the investigator for the Carroll State's Attorney's Office died last week; and a cousin of defense attorney Richard O'Connor was buried on Friday.
"This has never happened before to me," said Ronald Hogg, Mr. O'Connor's co-counsel. "Never."
In his Ellicott City office yesterday, Mr. Hogg asked two of his law partners if they have had death strike key figures involved in jury trials.
"They're saying no," Mr. Hogg reported. He noted that, between them, the partners have tried nearly 100 cases before juries.
The number of deaths during the Bryson trial exceeds the number of U.S. servicemen and women killed in the first seven weeks of Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. (More than 28,000 military personnel were sent to the African nation on Dec. 9.)
"I'd say that's unusual," said Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., who was asked if he had ever had as many deaths during a jury trial. He said he couldn't recall a trial during which a family member of even one principal had died.
Mr. Bryson was arrested last April and charged with shooting Mr. Therit, who was killed almost instantly with a gun taken from his store.
The defendant is charged with first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder, armed robbery, theft and battery.
His case was moved to Anne Arundel County Circuit Court because of pretrial publicity.
The jury began deliberating Friday afternoon but went home after four hours after telling the judge the panel members were undecided and tired.
Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman is seeking the death penalty in Mr. Bryson's case. It is only the third time since capital punishment was reinstated in Maryland that Mr. Hickman has sought the death penalty. Neither he nor Assistant State's Attorney Clarence "Buddy" Beall could be reached for comment yesterday.
None of the three previous deaths has affected the trial. But, court officials said, the juror whose stepfather died requested time to be with his family and attend the funeral. All 12 jurors must be present for deliberations to resume.
Mr. Bryson's father, Garland Bryson, died Jan. 31 in a Pittsburgh hospital while he was awaiting a liver transplant. The elder Bryson had been called as a state's witness, but, because his health was failing, he gave a sworn deposition to prosecutors and defense attorneys before the trial began. The deposition was read to the jury during the trial.
His death caused no delay in the trial, as testimony wasn't scheduled to begin until Feb. 16.
For Jim Leete, an investigator in the Carroll State's Attorney's Office, news of his father's death came on the last day of testimony at the trial. He had been sitting at the trial table with Mr. Hickman and Mr. Beall since the beginning of the case.
Mr. O'Connor ran from the courtroom Friday as soon as closing arguments were finished to attend his cousin's funeral in New Jersey.