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UPDATE: Witness says man grabbed her shoulders

Testimony continues today in Morris murder trial

Testimony continues today in Morris murder trial

January 15, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. - A Funkstown woman testified Tuesday morning that a black man wearing only a hospital gown grabbed her by the shoulders as she visited her daughter at Washington County Hospital early on the morning of Jan. 26, 2006.

Tina Bussard took the stand in Howard County Circuit Court as the prosecution presented evidence for a second day in the trial of Brandon T. Morris, 22, who is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery Wroten.

Bussard, 50, left her daughter's hospital room after she heard a commotion and a "popping noise" across the hall, she testified.

"I felt arms come around me," Bussard told the jury.

The man was waving a gun in her face, she said.

Bussard's daughter said, "No, not my mom, not my mom," at which point the man pointed the gun at the younger woman. Bussard pushed his hand down and told him "No, don't," she testified Tuesday.

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The man dragged Bussard out of the room, grabbing at her hair, and she grasped a handrail, at which point the man lost his balance and ran toward an exit, she testified.

Prosecutors contend the shooting was part of a calculated escape plan during which Morris took Bussard as a hostage and moments later carjacked a taxi. The defense argues the escape was not planned and therefore premeditated murder does not apply.

Morris faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder. His trial was moved from Washington County to Howard County, a right granted to anyone in Maryland who faces a possible death penalty.

Morris, who was serving an eight-year sentence for assault and weapons convictions at RCI, was taken to Washington County Hospital on Jan. 25, 2006, after he jabbed a sewing needle into his liver, according to witness testimony. Wroten, 44, of Martinsburg, W.Va., was assigned to guard Morris overnight.

Tuesday's evidence revolved around the hostage situation, escape and carjacking.

Attorneys read a statement from cab driver Frank Fultz, in which Fultz described a black man in a hospital gown running out of the hospital and jumping into Fultz's cab. The man pointed a gun to Fultz's head and told him to drive into Pennsylvania, the statement said. Fultz feared for his life, he said in the statement.

Fultz was unable to testify because was hospitalized for an illness unrelated to the events at issue during the trial. The statement prosecutors read was taken by Maryland State Police investigators the day of the shooting.

Ronald Hutzel, a security guard at Washington County Hospital, described for the jury Tuesday his pursuit of Fultz's cab. He said he watched a black man in a hospital gown bolt out of the hospital's main lobby doors and get into a cab.

The cab took off, and Hutzel followed it because he knew someone in the hospital had been shot, he said. Another officer in the pursuit vehicle kept in contact with Hagerstown police dispatch, Hutzel said.

He followed the cab through Hagerstown, north to U.S. 11, Hutzel testified. By the time he reached U.S. 11, several police vehicles had joined the pursuit, and Hutzel returned to the hospital, he said.

Washington County Sheriff's deputies, Hagerstown police officers and Maryland State troopers testified Tuesday about the chase into Pennsylvania that led to Morris' capture. Deputy Jason Litten, who took Morris into custody, described chasing a man wearing boxer shorts and holding a revolver through fields near U.S. 11.

When cornered by deputies in the area of Industrial Drive, the man Litten identified as Morris held the gun to his own head. At one point, Morris stood with the gun at his side and stared at officers for several minutes, Litten said.

He eventually threw down the gun, after which officers tackled him and wrestled him to the ground, Litten said.

Andrew Wallech Sr. was working at Kane Logistics in the area of Industrial Drive that morning and spoke with a black man wearing only boxer shorts, he testified. The man told Wallech he had been robbed and asked Wallech to call a cab for him, Wallech testified. The man offered money to pay for the cab, and Wallech didn't understand why someone who had been robbed would have money, he told the jury.

Soon after he saw the man in boxer shorts, "Cops came flying in from every which way," Wallech said. He pointed in the direction the man had gone, and officers "flushed him out" from underneath a trailer, Wallech testified.

The state expects to wrap up its case Wednesday morning, Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael told the judge. If the state rests its case by noon, the defense could wrap up its case later in the day, defense attorney Arcangelo Tuminelli said.

Closing arguments could begin as soon as Thursday.

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