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Murder trial slated to open

By BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 30, 2000


INVERNESS -- Jury selection and a trial is scheduled to begin today for Norman L. Byrum, who is accused of kicking another man to death during a neighborhood dispute last year.

Byrum, 46, of Hernando faces at least 20 years and up to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder in the death of Arthur Manning Schultz, 48, also of Hernando. Authorities say Schultz died from injuries he suffered by being kicked in the head after he intervened on behalf of his father-in-law-to-be during an early afternoon argument Aug. 20, 1999.

Assistant State Attorney Willard Pope said he offered Byrum a plea bargain in which Byrum would have been sentenced to the minimum 20 years in prison. The defendant rejected the deal.

Investigators from the Citrus County Sheriff's Office have fielded complaints from Schultz's mother, who was upset that authorities didn't seek a first-degree murder charge in which Byrum could have faced the death penalty.

"First-degree murder requires evidence of premeditation," Pope said. "When you look at the facts, a second-degree murder charge involves conduct that is eminently dangerous but is not necessarily meant to effect a death."

He said the charge applies in this case, which he said is why he didn't offer to let Byrum plead guilty to a lesser crime, such as manslaughter. An attempt to reach an attorney for Byrum late Friday afternoon was not successful.

The Sheriff's Office has said the dispute started outside homes near the 4 Acres Tavern on U.S. 41 south of County Road 491. Byrum's girlfriend, Helen Butler, had told him of an earlier incident in the days leading up to the fight in which an older resident of the neighborhood allegedly peeked at her through the screen door of her home, according to court records.

Byrum allegedly confronted the man, telling him not to peep at his "old lady," Butler told attorneys in pretrial interviews.

Gordon Therrien, landlord for the two neighbors, told investigators he went looking for Byrum to talk to him about the confrontation. Standing to the side of the Byrum-Butler residence as he looked for Byrum, he told Butler he was trying not to peek in her door, according to pretrial testimony.

Therrien caught up with Byrum at a bar, according to court records, where they argued about the confrontation with the older neighbor. When Byrum got home, Butler told him about the remark Therrien had made.

So Byrum approached Therrien again at a shed he owned near the tavern and which Schultz used as an office for an air-conditioning business, according to testimony from Therrien and Butler. Schultz was engaged to marry Therrien's daughter.

Therrien said Byrum was combative and used foul language. He said Schultz stood up to defend him. An oral dispute turned physical, he said.

Accounts have varied on who threw the first punch. Therrien initially told investigators it was Schultz, then later told attorneys Byrum gave an initial shove, court records indicate. Butler has acknowledged she didn't see part of the fight, which moved behind the shed and out of her view.

Once at the rear of the shed, Therrien has said, Byrum kicked Schultz repeatedly in the head and chest as he lay on the ground. It was raining heavily. Schultz was pronounced dead at the scene and Byrum was arrested after he returned from depositing a check at a Beverly Hills bank.

Witnesses have told investigators that both of the men involved in the fight had a history of barroom disputes. And Therrien told attorneys that Butler regularly accused people of peeking at her inside the home.

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