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Man charged in death of ex-girlfriend, officer, pleads in separate domestic violence case

August 05, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Douglas Wayne Pryor, who is charged with first-degree murder in the December 2007 deaths of his former girlfriend and a Smithsburg police officer, entered an Alford plea Monday to a domestic violence charge in a separate case.

Pryor entered the plea in Washington County Circuit Court to second-degree assault against Alison Munson, the mother of his children and the woman he is charged with later killing.

Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but admits the prosecution has sufficient evidence to gain a conviction.

Pryor, 29, is to stand trial in Montgomery County in connection with the shooting death of Officer Christopher Shane Nicholson and the stabbing death of the 31-year-old Munson.

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He faces the death penalty if convicted of Nicholson's death.

Prior to the plea, Pryor's attorneys filed several motions, which were to be heard Monday in preparation for a trial Wednesday. The trial was avoided when Pryor entered the plea.

Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III said at the beginning of Wednesday's hearing that he didn't want the attorneys involved to rehash their motions, out of concern about the subsequent publicity and the possibility of tainting the jury pool before Wednesday's scheduled hearing.

Despite arguments from one of Pryor's attorneys, Katy O'Donnell, Wright ruled against a defense motion to continue and a motion to close Wednesday's hearing. O'Donnell argued that an open hearing prior to the capital case would bring, "additional prejudicial media attention."

Pryor on Monday addressed the judge as "sir" in response to questioning by Wright. He also told the judge he was on medication for pain and for depression.

He was shot in an exchange of gunfire with Washington County Special Response Team members when they took him into custody, according to reports.

The charge to which Pryor entered the plea Monday stemmed from an incident on Oct. 31, 2007, when Pryor, enraged over a letter he read, began to hit Munson, leaving bruises on her head, face, chest and forearm, Deputy M. Sullivan wrote in charging documents filed in Washington County District Court.

The second-degree assault charge stemmed from that incident.

On Nov. 1, 2007, Munson also was granted a protective order that forbade Pryor from having any contact with her, but his access to guns and knives was not addressed. Court records show the order was served on Pryor on Nov. 8 at 23436 Welty Church Road in Smithsburg, where he once lived with Munson, The Herald-Mail has reported.

Munson visited someone at Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md., on Sept. 30. When Pryor learned about the visit in a letter Oct. 31, he became furious, Sullivan wrote in charging documents.

"He got angry and began hitting me in the face, pushing me, he kicked me in the head then full fist punched me in the face," Munson wrote in her petition for protection.

Munson told police she "was unsure why he was angry" because they were separated when she made the visit, Sullivan wrote.

Munson was found dead in her Halfway apartment Dec. 19, 2007. As authorities sought Pryor that night, Nicholson was fatally shot while he waited for backup to arrive at a Smithsburg-area location where authorities thought Pryor might turn up.

In July, a Washington County Circuit Court judge transferred Pryor's capital trial to Montgomery County Circuit Court at the request of the defense. Such a change of venue is automatic in death penalty cases if the defense requests it.

Pryor is scheduled to appear in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Aug. 26 for a scheduling hearing in the capital case.

He was being held without bond Monday at the Washington County Detention Center, a deputy said.

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