Pre-trial motions heard in Pryor murder case

March 24, 2009

ROCKVILLE, Md. -- Douglas Pryor, who faces the death penalty if convicted of the December 2007 death of a Smithsburg police officer, appeared in Montgomery County (Md.) Circuit Court for a pre-trial hearing.

Pryor, 30, faces first-degree murder in the shooting death of Officer Christopher Nicholson and in the stabbing death of the mother of his children, Alison Munson.

Motion and suppression hearings are scheduled through Tuesday. Pryor's trial begins in May. Because he faces the death penalty, Pryor had an automatic right to ask that the trial be moved to another county.

The prosecution and defense attorneys Tuesday morning went back and forth over such issues as scheduling dates for submitting motions and witness lists.


Munson was found dead in her home at Maple Lead Court in Halfway Manor at about 9:30 p.m. Dec. 19, 2007.

After Munson's body was found, deputies headed for Pryor's house on Welty Church Road near Smithsburg. The Smithsburg Police Department was asked for assistance.

Nicholson, the only Smithsburg police officer on duty that night, responded and was waiting for backup in a driveway off Welty Church Road when he was fatally shot.

Pryor was wounded later that night in a shootout with police.

He appeared in court Tuesday wearing jeans and a button-up shirt. He sat with his attorneys, Assistant Public Defender Brian Hutchison and Katy C. O'Donnell, division chief of the Office of the Public Defender's Capital Defense division. Three uniformed officers also sat near the defense table.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Louise G. Scrivener is handling the case.

Scrivener denied several defense motions Tuesday afternoon, including several that asked the judge to strike the state's notice to seek the death penalty.

Also addressed Tuesday was a potential conflict between Hutchison and a former Washington County Detention Center inmate he represented in 2004 and 2006. His former client is expected to testify about statements made by Pryor while he was being held in the jail. Scrivener said she could see no actual conflict.

Pryor spoke briefly to acknowledge that he understood the nature of the potential conflict.

Two other statements allegedly made by Pryor were discussed Tuesday. One was made to Washington County Sheriff's Lt. Mark Knight several weeks before Munson and Nicholson were killed. That statement, which would go to Pryor's motive, was made when Knight was serving a protective order filed by Munson against Pryor, Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael said.

Another statement was recently mentioned by a nurse working at Washington County Hospital, where investigators interviewed Pryor following the incidents of Dec. 19, 2007. The nurse said Pryor made statements about Munson's killing, saying he knew he had "messed up," the attorneys said.

O'Donnell objected to the late notice of the statement, saying the defense didn't even know the full statement. The late notice had "done damage to our investigation," she said. Deputy State's Attorney Steven Kessell said it was "not likely" that the statement would be introduced at trial.

Witnesses, including investigators and the inmate who alleged Pryor discussed the crimes in jail, are expected to be called Friday during a suppression hearing.

-- Erin Julius

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