Frederick chemist Alan Bruce Chmurny apparently took a cyanide pill yesterday afternoon, minutes after a jury found him guilty of trying to poison a former co-worker with mercury.
Chmurny, who faces significant prison time, was rushed to Howard County General Hospital, where he was reported in critical condition last night. County police said he was unconscious, and they could offer no additional medical information.
It was a bizarre ending to an unusual case. Chmurny, who has a doctorate in chemistry, was arrested on assault and related charges in June 2000 after North Laurel resident Marta Bradley found mercury, a toxic metallic element, splashed on the seats and floor and in the vents of her station wagon.
After five days of testimony, a Howard County jury deliberated for four hours yesterday before finding Chmurny, 57, guilty of first-degree assault, second-degree assault and three counts of reckless endangerment. The jury also found him not guilty of a malicious destruction of property charge. The first-degree assault charge carries a maximum 25-year prison term.
With the jury filing out of the courtroom about 5:25 p.m., Chmurny, dressed in a gray suit, gulped water from a foam cup as he sat in a chair behind the defense table. As he turned around to mouth something to his family, his lawyer, Dino Flores, approached trial Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. The lawyer said Chmurny claimed to have just taken cyanide, according to police.
Two deputies, one grasping Chmurny's arm tightly, ushered him out of the courtroom where Chmurny apparently refused to give information to deputies, said Sherry Llewellyn, Howard County police spokeswoman.
What followed was chaos.
Chmurny's wife and daughter filed out of the courthouse and walked toward their car as paramedics pulled a stretcher into Kane's chambers. Within minutes, Kane's court reporter, Shirley Reynolds, bolted down the courthouse stairs and out the door, in search of Chmurny's family. Llewellyn said Chmurny stopped breathing at one point but paramedics were able to revive him.
As paramedics rolled Chmurny out a side door of the courthouse and into a waiting ambulance, the chemist's eyes rolled back in his head. Paramedics stabilized Chmurny in the ambulance and left for the hospital about 6:10 p.m.
When asked if her father had taken cyanide, Chmurny's daughter said "yes," according to a court official who asked not to be named.
Chmurny's wife, Gwendolyn, who had testified on his behalf the day before, never approached the ambulance where paramedics were working on her husband. She leaned heavily on her daughter's arm as she walked away from the courthouse.
"I've never seen anything like it. It's crazy," said Assistant State's Attorney Jim Dietrich, who prosecuted the case. "I don't think anybody saw this coming."
The late-afternoon drama was a stark contrast to the almost clinical legal proceeding, which featured testimony from experts who used scientific formulas and terminology to explain the potentially fatal dangers of mercury, which, according to one, eats away at the body systems if inhaled or ingested in sufficient quantity.
With no witness who saw Chmurny place the mercury in Bradley's 1992 Ford Taurus station wagon in mid-April last year, Dietrich called 13 witnesses and introduced a series of exhibits to portray the chemist as a highly intelligent scientist whose obsession with Bradley spiraled out of control when she didn't return his feelings.
Keys to the Bradley family's car, maps to their Jeanne Court home and a quarter-full bottle of mercury were seized during searches of Chmurny's house and car after his arrest, according to testimony. A man Bradley and her husband, Scot, identified as Chmurny was also caught on videotape fussing with the couple's car in late May. The tapes were part of a surveillance set up after the discovery of the mercury.
"Why didn't he succeed in his plan?" Dietrich said yesterday in his closing argument. "It was Marta Bradley who recognized that something was just not right in her car. ... Marta Bradley was just lucky enough to have seen [the mercury]."
By contrast, Flores attempted to portray Bradley as the problem. Bradley and Chmurny met when they worked together at Oceanix Biosciences Corp. in Hanover in 1995. Through Gwendolyn Chmurny's testimony, Flores introduced a videotape of a caller-identification box noting early-morning calls from the Bradleys' home number. Gwendolyn Chmurny also testified that they were keeping a file on Bradley to look into Bradley's continuing claims against Alan Chmurny.
"Why should you not believe Marta Bradley? Is she lying? Was her testimony one big act?" Flores said during his closing. "What is more believable is that this lady testified out of an irrational fear of Alan Chmurny."
After the verdict, Flores would not comment on the cyanide claims. He did say, however, that because his client was ushered out so quickly, he hadn't had time to discuss "the ramifications" of the verdict.
Bradley, who was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read, cried and said "thank you" when told that Chmurny had been convicted, Dietrich said.
Kane immediately revoked Chmurny's bond. Sentencing is set for Nov. 15.