Officers who shot at Pryor speak in court

March 31, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ROCKVILLE, Md.-- Proceedings in Douglas Wayne Pryor's murder case on Tuesday included court appearances by two police officers who shot at Pryor the night he allegedly killed two people.

Washington County Sheriff's Department Lt. Mark Knight testified that he shot Pryor on Dec. 19, 2007.

Former Maryland State Police Trooper 1st Class Michael A. Ford, who fired three shots at Pryor that night but missed, also spoke briefly in court.

Knight was the final witness in a hearing to consider suppressing statements Pryor made to police and inmates.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Louise G. Scrivener did not make a ruling.

Pryor is scheduled to be tried in Montgomery County in May on charges he murdered ex-girlfriend Alison Munson and Smithsburg Police Officer Christopher Nicholson. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Attorneys also argued Tuesday whether DNA evidence that might be tied to Pryor should be allowed as evidence.

Witnesses testified that DNA on a shirt and pants is thought, with high certainty, to be Munson's; only one person in more than 6 trillion would match.


DNA samples on the same shirt and pants match Pryor, but with certainty of only 1 in 2, according to testimony.

Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Viki Pauler said the connection isn't strong, but a jury should be allowed to evaluate it.

Patrick Kent, a lawyer representing Pryor, called the link a "statistical flip of a coin" and asked that it be disqualified.

Scrivener also didn't rule on the DNA evidence.

Attorneys for both sides are due back in court for other pretrial issues on April 21.

One point of dispute is how an imminent change to Maryland's death penalty law might apply to Pryor's case.

Instead of abolishing the death penalty this year, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill limiting it to cases with a videotaped confession, a videotape of the crime or biological evidence. Gov. Martin O'Malley hasn't signed the bill yet.

Katy O'Donnell, another attorney for Pryor, said the defense will seek to have the new law apply to the current case.

"The state will view this as frivolous," countered Washington County Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael, noting that the amended law wouldn't take effect until Oct. 1.

O'Donnell maintained that the new law should apply. Otherwise, the defense will try to continue the case until after Oct. 1, she said.

During the suppression hearing, which started last week, the defense aired objections to using statements and head gestures by Pryor that implicate him.

A police investigator testified Monday that on Dec. 20, 2007, Pryor "shook his head 'yes'" when he was asked if he killed the Smithsburg police officer and "shook his head 'no'" when asked if he meant to kill the officer.

The defense contends Pryor wasn't in a position to answer police questions that day. As he lay in his hospital bed, recovering from surgery for gunshot wounds, Pryor had a breathing tube in his throat and was on medication.

However, a supervising trauma surgeon said Pryor didn't seem affected by the drugs.

The defense also wants to exclude an interview Pryor had with police at Washington County Hospital on Dec. 21, comments he supposedly made to a Washington County Detention Center cellmate, and other statements.

At the end of the suppression hearing, Knight said he served Pryor in November 2007 with a criminal summons and a protective order connected to problems he had with Munson. The two men talked for about 20 minutes in Knight's police car, he said.

Knight, who said he has known Pryor's family for many years, responded to the call when Nicholson was killed. He testified that he shot Pryor that night "to stop Mr. Pryor."

Ford, the former trooper, was in court Tuesday because the defense is trying to see his medical records.

Ford was suspended after he was among 18 people robbed at an illegal poker game in Hagerstown in May 2008.

On Jan. 1, he retired. His attorney has said Ford was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the "life-and-death" manhunt for Pryor.

In court on Tuesday, Ford called it "a night that haunts me forever."

Ford is no longer a witness in Pryor's case, but Assistant Public Defender Brian Hutchison said the defense wants to explore what led to his PTSD and retirement.

Scrivener said she'll review Ford's records before considering arguments for or against using them in the case.

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