Judge: Slain woman's children will remain with accused killer's relatives

Master's decision to award joint custody to three people, including victim's mother, is upheld

Master's decision to award joint custody to three people, including victim's mother, is upheld

June 18, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Family members of a man accused of killing the mother of his children were in court Tuesday morning after filing a notice of exception to a Washington County domestic relations master's decision regarding custody of the children.

The father of Alison Munson's children, Douglas Pryor, faces first-degree murder charges in her death and in the death of Smithsburg Police Officer Christopher Nicholson, who was killed the same night as Munson last December.

Prosecutors have filed a notice of their intention to seek the death penalty if Pryor is convicted of Nicholson's death.

The children -- a 9-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl -- have been living in Smithsburg with Troy and Geri Pryor, Douglas Pryor's brother and sister-in-law, since January.

A Washington County Circuit Court judge Tuesday morning upheld a decision granting joint legal custody to three people.

In his ruling, Master Daniel P. Dwyer wanted to ensure that at least two would have to agree when making medical, educational and religious decisions about the children, according to court documents.


During a March hearing, it was agreed that the children should live with Troy and Geri Pryor because the 9-year-old boy wants to live with his aunt and uncle, who have children similar in age.

Dwyer awarded joint legal custody to Munson's mother and Troy and Geri Pryor, with the Pryors having physical custody.

Washington County Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III upheld that decision Tuesday. He also ordered the Pryors make arrangements to ensure the children's health needs can be met when they're with their grandparents.

The Pryors' attorney, Timothy Gordon, argued Tuesday in court that three-way joint legal custody was not in the children's best interest. Munson's mother, Jacqueline Smith, already enjoyed a "significant amount of time for a grandparent" as part of the custody arrangement, he said. It was contrary to the children's best interest to have decisions split by people far away from each other, who don't know each other and who are undergoing the stress of Douglas Pryor's trial, he said.

Gordon called the arrangement "unworkable."

"I feel that I need to keep my daughter alive," Smith, of Great Cacapon, W.Va., said during the March custody hearing.

During Tuesday's hearing, Smith's attorney, Bernard W. Semler II, said nothing in supported Gordon's assertion that the arrangement was unworkable.

Troy Pryor's only testimony about why he didn't want to share legal custody with Smith was that he didn't see a reason for it, Semler said.

Semler also challenged Gordon's statement about the distance creating problems for a joint legal custody situation. The families live close enough that having the children on alternating weekends hasn't created a problem, he said.

Douglas Pryor is scheduled to appear July 7 in Washington County Circuit Court for a criminal motions hearing.

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