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Inmate says suspect robbed murder victim

January 31, 2001

Inmate says suspect robbed murder victim



By MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer


The cellmate of an inmate who died in his cell at the Maryland Correctional Training Center two years ago testified Tuesday that Lawson Noel was strangled while being robbed of his expensive clothes.

Melvin Curtis Rust, 23, and Howard Berryman Jr., 24, now housed at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore, are on trial in Washington County Circuit Court for the Jan. 2, 1999, strangulation death of Noel.

Both were indicted by a Washington County grand jury in January 2000 on first-degree felony murder charges.

After the prosecution rested its case at mid-afternoon Tuesday, a defense motion for acquittal was granted on the conspiracy to commit robbery charge.

Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick Wright ruled that all other counts, including first- and second-degree murder, robbery, first- and second-degree assault and felony theft, would go to the jury.

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Inmate Deon Coates, now 19, testified he was Noel's cellmate in 1999 and that he warned him about the expensive clothing he got from home and wore around the prison. "It seemed like he was showing off," Coates said.

He told of being approached by the two defendants, men he knew only by their prison names. They wanted him to help them rob Noel, known as "L," of his clothes, Coates said.

"I told 'Freaky Black' (Berryman) and 'Melvin' (Rust) that I didn't want to do it," said Coates, 17 at the time and serving time for attempted murder.

The prosecution contends it was during breakfast time on Jan. 2, 1999, that Noel was robbed of his designer clothing and shoes and then strangled by Rust and Berryman.

Coates said two men came into the cell that morning with their shirts up over their faces said he knew it was the defendants.

"I went to eat and when I came back, somebody came out of the cell," Coates said. "I went in and there was stuff all over the floor."

Coates said he saw Noel on his bunk. He was on his stomach with a belt around his neck and hooked to the bunk above," Coates said.

Under questioning from defense attorneys Carl Creeden, Eric Reed and Tom Sinton, Coates admitted he not only didn't warn his cellmate but he didn't tell correctional officers or Maryland State Police what he knew until months after the death.

Cecil Ayers, now an inmate at the Eastern Correctional Institution, said he saw Berryman "shimmying" along the wall outside Noel's cell that morning.

Ayers said some inmates distracted a correctional officer on duty while the cell doors were opened and several inmates, including Rust and Berryman, came out of Noel's cell.

Later that day, Ayers said, he encountered Berryman in the recreation hall. "I asked him what happened and he said he was in there robbing Noel, put him in a choke hold and then stopped him from shaking," Ayers said.

Dr. Theodore M. King Jr., a deputy Maryland medical examiner, testified Tuesday that he performed the autopsy on Noel and determined his death to be homicide by strangulation.

The defense attorneys are expected to continue presenting their case today.

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