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Inmates guilty in prison murder

February 01, 2001

Inmates guilty in prison murder



By MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer


Two former Maryland Correctional Training Center inmates were convicted Thursday of first-degree felony murder in the 1999 death of another prisoner.

Melvin Curtis Rust and Howard Berryman Jr. will be returned to Washington County Circuit Court today at 11 a.m. for sentencing by Judge Frederick Wright.

"I'm not going to consider life without parole," Wright said Thursday.

Wright said a life sentence could be a possibility, with or without some years suspended.

The jury, which deliberated just over six hours, also found the two men guilty of robbery, which carries a 10-year maximum sentence; first-degree assault, which has a 25-year maximum penalty, and felony theft, which has a 15-year maximum sentence.

Ruth Noel, mother of the victim, Lawson Noel, wept quietly after the verdicts were read Thursday afternoon. She was in attendance all four days of the trial.

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An unidentified woman who sat in the back of the courtroom during the trial also became emotional and called out to Berryman as he was being taken to a holding cell after the verdict was read.

Both men were indicted by a Washington County grand jury in January 2000 on first-degree felony murder charges for the Jan. 2, 1999, strangulation death of Noel.

Rust, 23, and Berryman, 24, are now incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore although they have been temporarily housed at the Maryland Correctional Institution.

Jurors were not only asked to decide guilt or innocence of the two defendants, but to determine whether Noel's death was a homicide as one forensic pathologist testified or an accident or even suicide - possibilities not discounted in the testimony of another forensic investigator.

Noel was found on his bunk by his cellmate on the morning of his death. A belt was around his neck and hooked over a rod on the bottom of the top bunk. His feet were bound.

Deon Coates, 19, testified Tuesday 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.

He said he was approached by the two defendants who wanted him to help them rob Noel of his clothes.

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.

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