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Some of Pryor's statements to be suppressed

April 21, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

ROCKVILLE, Md. -- A Montgomery County (Md.) Circuit judge granted some defense motions to suppress statements made by Douglas Pryor, who faces the death penalty if he is convicted of the Dec. 19, 2007, shooting death of a Smithsburg Police Department officer, court documents show.

Pryor also faces a first-degree murder charge in the stabbing death that day of Alison Munson, the mother of his children.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Louise Scrivener, in decisions handed down last week, granted the defense motion to suppress the first exchange Pryor had with investigators following the shooting.

During that interview in Washington County Hospital the morning after the killings, Pryor had a breathing tube in his throat and couldn't speak.

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Washington County Sheriff's Department Investigator Kenny Barnhart testified during the suppression hearing in March that police asked two questions when Pryor awoke from a medically induced coma. The first question was, "Did you kill the Smithsburg police officer?" to which Pryor "shook his head 'yes,'" Barnhart said.

The second question was, "Did you mean to kill the officer?" to which Pryor "shook his head 'no,'" he testified.

Assistant Public Defender Brian Hutchison suggested that drugs given to the wounded Pryor might have hampered his ability to respond to police questions.

Dr. Marc Kross, surgeon in chief of Washington County Hospital's trauma division, testified in March that he gauged Pryor's lucidity before letting police talk to him and said Pryor "didn't seem all that impaired to me."

Also at issue during the March hearing was a conversation between Pryor and Maryland State Police investigators.

Maryland State Police Cpl. Richard Bachtell said he and a colleague talked to Pryor on Dec. 27, 2007, at the Maryland Transition Center in Baltimore, a prison facility with a wing for medical care.

Pryor said he had a lawyer, so Bachtell didn't talk to him about the shootings, Bachtell testified. But having known Pryor for 20 years, and seeing he was "extremely agitated and upset," Bachtell stayed and talked with him for about two hours, Bachtell testified.

Scrivener ruled that what Pryor said in that conversation was voluntary, but may be used for impeachment or rebuttal purposes only, court documents show.

Also at issue was information given to prosecutors by a prison inmate who was working in sanitation at the state's Metropolitan Transition Center while Pryor was being held there. The state and defense expressed concern about the inmate's motive in contacting authorities, the judge wrote in her decisions. Those allegations called into question his reliability as a witness and the trustworthiness of any of the inmate's statements, so they will be suppressed, the judge ordered.

Other statements, including an audiotaped confession Pryor made Dec. 21, 2007, while at Washington County Hospital, and statements he made to another inmate while being held at the Washington County Detention Center, may be used at trial, the judge ordered.

Munson was found dead in her home at Maple Leaf Court in Halfway Manor on Dec. 19, 2007, about 9:30 p.m. The Washington County Sheriff's Department deputies headed for Pryor's house on Welty Church Road near Smithsburg and the Smithsburg Police Department was asked for assistance. Officer Christopher Nicholson responded and was waiting for backup in a driveway off Welty Church Road when he was fatally shot.

The trial was transferred to Rockville at the request of the defense.

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