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Pryor to be tried in Montgomery County in slayings of former girlfriend, Smithsburg officer

July 08, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III on Monday granted a change of venue in the murder trial of Douglas Wayne Pryor, who is charged with killing the mother of his children and a Smithsburg police officer in December 2007.

Wright transferred the trial to Montgomery County Circuit Court at the request of the defense. Such a change of venue is automatic in capital cases if the defense requests it. A court date has not been set.

Pryor is charged in the Dec. 19, 2007, stabbing death of Alison Munson, 31, of Halfway. He also is charged with fatally shooting Smithsburg Police Officer Christopher Shane Nicholson later that night as Nicholson awaited backup during the ensuing manhunt.

Authorities captured Pryor during a shootout hours later.

Pryor faces first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Munson and Nicholson. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty if Pryor is convicted.

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Wright said he believed that court officials in Montgomery County would "fulfill (their) responsibility," despite hearing an argument beforehand from Washington County Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael. Michael said the defense and some members of the Montgomery County court system communicated before Monday's hearing without the prosecution's knowledge.

Wright later denied a second motion for a change of venue involving a separate trial in which Pryor is to appear on charges of second-degree assault and destruction of property stemming from an Oct. 31, 2007 incident, when Pryor allegedly hit Munson.

Assistant Public Defender Brian Hutchison argued that Pryor has gotten too much publicity, both on television and in the newspaper, and, as a result, couldn't receive a fair trial with a local jury.

"The articles are numerous," Hutchison said. "There's just been so much in this case ... that the defense could not get a fair trial in this jurisdiction."

Deputy State's Attorney Steven C. Kessell acknowledged that the Pryor case was unique, but he said the media attention associated with the assault and destruction of property charges was minor.

"Most of (the media coverage) is the capital case," Kessell said.

After hearing both sides, Wright said he would have to wait to see how the publicity affected potential jurors during jury selection on the charges in the October incident. He ordered that case to begin Aug. 6.

Pryor, 29, entered the courtroom in a short-sleeve plaid shirt that exposed tattoos on his arms. He sat casually in his chair as attorneys for the prosecution and defense presented their arguments.

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