Bryant v. State

Decision Date14 July 1955
Docket NumberNo. 91,91
Citation115 A.2d 502,207 Md. 565
PartiesEugene E. BRYANT v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Howard A. Vogel, Washington, D. C., for appellant.

Ambrose T. Hartman, Asst. Atty. Gen., (C. Ferdinand Sybert, Atty. Gen., Blair H. Smith, State's Atty. for Prince George's County, Upper Marlboro, and C. Orman Manahan, State's Atty. for Howard County, Ellicott City, on the brief), for appellee.



Eugene E. Bryant, age 21, a resident of Hillside, a suburb of Washington, was tried before a jury in the Circuit Court for Howard County for the murder of Joan Marie Ruzza, age 17, of Capitol Heights. He was found guilty of murder in the first degree, and was sentenced to be hanged. He has appealed here from the judgment.

The murder was committed in Capitol Heights on the evening of April 8, 1954, at about 8 o'clock. The body of the young girl, who was a student at the Suitland High School, was found that night at 11:30 o'clock in a private driveway on 49th Avenue. Appellant, who was a veteran of the Korean War, was immediately suspected as the murderer. He had given the girl on engagement ring before Christmas, 1953; but she had returned the ring early in February after her father vehemently objected to the marriage and warned them not to meet again.

Shortly after midnight, scarcely an hour after the finding of the body, two policemen went to appellant's home, had him roused from his bed, and told him that he was wanted at the police station at Seat Pleasant for questioning. He accompanied them without protest.

On April 9 an autopsy was performed by Dr. James I. Boyd, Deputy Medical Examiner, who found five gunshot wounds, one in the left hand, one in the abdomen, one in the cheek, and two in the skull. Dr. Boyd also found that the girl had been pregnant between three and four months.

At 5:30 p. m. appellant signed a statement in the presence of Detective Sergeants Kearns and Huber, in which he set up an alibi that he was with three other girls on the previous evening.

Appellant then voluntarily agreed to take a lie detector test, although an attorney, who visited him that afternoon, advised him that he was not required to take such a test. That evening Leonard H. Harrelson, one of the owners of a detective agency in Washington, gave him the test in an office of the police station. During the test appellant told Harrelson that he did not kill the girl. After the test Harrelson told him that the chart showed that he was lying.

Harrelson also showed him the photographs which had been taken of the girl's body on the autopsy table. Shortly after seeing the photographs, appellant told Harrelson and the police officers that he had killed the girl and was willing to make a confession. He began the statement at 9:07 p. m., and it was typed for his signature at 10:45 p. m. After signing the confession in the presence of Sergeants Kearns and Huber, he accompanied the police to 61st Avenue and L Street, where he had hidden the revolver under a cardboard box. After searching in the weeds under the box, the officers found the revolver.

Appellant was indicted for murder by the grand jury of Prince Georges County on April 13. On May 4 the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, acting upon his suggestion that he could not obtain a fair and impartial trial in that county and his application for a change of venue, ordered the case removed to the Circuit Court for Howard County for trial. On June 18 he filed a plea of not guilty because of insanity at the time of the commission of the crime.

The case was set for trial on July 12. On July 8 appellant petitioned for a continuance on the ground that he could not obtain a fair and impartial trial by jury at that time. Judge Clark immediately denied the motion, and the trial began as scheduled.

Appellant's father, Bainbridge E. Bryant, a pasteurizer of milk in a Washington dairy, described the serious injuries appellant received in an automobile accident on July 14, 1952, after his return from Korea. In that accident two of appellant's friends were killed. Mr. Bryant said that his son was taken to Walter Reed Hospital, where he seemed to be in a state of amnesia and could not remember the circumstances of the accident. The hospital records showed that, in addition to several broken bones, appellant sustained a cerebral concussion and had retrograde amnesia for several days. He underwent an operation for a broken bone in his left leg, and was confined to the hospital for several months.

Appellant's mother testified that he had convulsions as a baby and rheumatic fever before he was five years old.

When the State offered appellant's confession in evidence, Sergeant Huber testified: 'I told him that he didn't have to talk if he didn't want to, that if he made any statement whatsoever, the statement was made of his own volition without any threats or promises, without any inducements of any kind, and that if he did make that certain kind of a statement, that statement could be used against him in court, if necessary.'

Appellant's attorney informed the Court that he had no evidence to show that the confession was not made voluntarily. The confession was thereupon read to the jury. In the Court of Appeals appellant stated that he made no objection to the admission of the confession in evidence.

In this signed confession, appellant stated that on April 8 at about 7:40 p. m. he left his house and drove to Capitol Heights, and saw Joan walking along the street. He stopped his car and asked her to get in with him, but she refused. He then stated:

'So I left and went up to F. Street and parked my car and I walked down 49th Avenue to meet her. I walked all the way down to the bottom of the hill, where I met her. * * * When we got to the spot where the shooting took place, she told me that she did not want to walk any farther with me, as she was afraid that her father or brother might see us. * * * I told her that I wanted her to go with me now so that I could talk with her. Then she said 'No,' and started to holler, and I took her by the arm, and I pulled this gun out of my back pocket and told her to come on with me, and she reached out with her hand and grabbed the gun. I had the hammer back on the gun and it went off and I kept on pulling the trigger. She fell and I walked over to where she was laying, knelt down beside her and I tried to pick her up. * * * I stood there for a few minutes. * * * I then walked up to my car, drove up 57th Avenue, and turned down L Street, where I went up in the woods and hid the gun. Then I went back up the road and picked up three girls on 57th Avenue, drove them around for about an hour, took them home, then went home myself.'

In reply to a question of the police, appellant said that he stole the revolver because he had one in the army and he always wanted one. He also made the reply that he picked up the three girls because he figured that he would get caught and this would be the last time he would be with some girls, and he also figured that they could be used as an alibi.

Upon taking the witness stand, appellant testified that while he was in the army he was absent without leave several times, was court-martialed, and was sentenced to the stockade. He stated that on three occasions, while he was in the stockade, he cut his wrists with a razor blade. He declared that he wanted to bleed to death so that he would get out of jail. He was discharged from the army in August, 1953.

Appellant then testified that he became engaged to Joan Ruzza in September, 1953. He also stated that he had frequent sexual intercourse with her during a period of five months, from early in October, 1953, until early in March, 1954.

Appellant further testified that on February 2, 1954, Joan's father ordered her not to see him again; but he persisted in seeing her. He stated that he lost the job which he had at a department store in Washington, and that he had nothing else to do. Frequently he drove Joan to school. He said: 'I'd meet her down at the bottom of the hill where she lived at. * * * Take her to school, sit around, talk, and we ride around until it was time for her to go to school, and I pick her up after school.'

Appellant further testified that when he met Joan again on March 7 and 8, she told him that she could not see him any more. On both of those days they had arguments which resulted in his arrest on two charges of assault. He was tried by Magistrate Nita S. Hinman Crane in Upper Marlboro on March 12. He contended that all he did was to 'grab her by the arm.' However, Miss Crane found him guilty and fined him $10 in each case. Even after those convictions, appellant watched Joan walking to school, and talked with her in a movie theater on April 4.

Appellant further testified that on April 8 he met Joan on the street at about 4:30 p. m. She told him that she was pregnant, and that she wanted to talk with him that evening. He agreed to meet her in a drug store at 7:30. He was determined to see her father and tell him the truth. At about 7:30 he met Joan on the street, and they agreed to meet on 49th Avenue. He parked his car, and took the revolver with him 'for two or three reasons,' one of which was that he intended to see Joan's father, who had threatened to kill him. When the estranged lovers met on 49th Avenue, appellant warned Joan that he was determined to see her father and force him to consent to their marriage. Joan pleaded with him not to see her father, as she feared that her father would kill him.

Appellant then gave the following account of their final conversation:

'I was just tired of every time I wanted to see her I had to meet her some place. * * * Well, at the time being, I pulled this gun out of my pocket. She had seen the gun before, because I showed it to her on March 5th. I stole it on March 3d or...

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