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Credibility of witnessto fatal fight assailed

Three people call the key witness a liar before the jury begins deliberations in the murder trial.

By BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


INVERNESS -- One man claims to have seen most if not all of the fight that led to Arthur Schultz's death on Aug. 20, 1999.

Defense attorneys spent much of Tuesday questioning Gordon Therrien's credibility and faulting Citrus County sheriff's deputies for so readily accepting his account.

Norman Byrum, 46, is charged with second-degree murder in Schultz's death. Therrien, the state's main witness, says Byrum kicked Schultz to death during a rainy-afternoon fight in the small Hernando community of 4 Acres off U.S. 41 N.

A panel of six jurors and two alternates heard from three witnesses Tuesday who called Therrien a liar and said Schultz, 48, had a reputation for instigating fights. A judge handed the case to the jurors late Tuesday, and the jurors are expected to begin deliberations this morning.

As they did during the first day of trial Monday, defense attorneys spent much of Tuesday pointing out inconsistencies in Therrien's versions of events.

Therrien, the landlord for a half-dozen cottages in 4 Acres, has said he and Schultz were inside a shed that afternoon when Byrum came storming up in the pouring rain. He was irate, pointing a finger and confronting Therrien about a remark he made to Byrum's girlfriend, Helen Butler, earlier that day.

Butler has said she saw Schultz throw the first punch but didn't witness the rest of the fight.

Defense Attorney Paul Militello repeatedly said that Therrien has given varying accounts of who threw the first punch.

At some point, Therrien testified, he grabbed a stick to chase off Byrum, but Therrienpreviously gave differing accounts of when and what he did with it afterward. On the stand Monday, Therrien also said for the first time that Byrum choked Schultz at one point.

Militello also questionedinvestigators, who saw half-empty beer containers in the shed.

Therrien has insisted neither was drinking, though a pathologist testified that Schultz had a blood-alcohol level of 0.05.

"The only evidence that Mr. Byrum committed this crime comes from one source: Gordon Therrien," Militello said in closing arguments. "If you would lie about something as inconsequential as to whether someone was drinking, what else would you lie about?"

Before those arguments, Militello and law partner Bruce Carney put on three witnesses, all of whom painted Therrien as a liar.

Stanley Shyner, who bought the 4 Acres Tavern from Therrien three years ago, said he saw the former bar owner the day after Schultz's death and asked him about it. Shyner asked Therrien whether he saw Byrum kick Schultz in the head.

"He said, "No, I just heard a thump,' " Shyner said.

Therrien declined comment outside the courthouse Tuesday.

The defense has argued that Schultz was not kicked to death. Attorneys instead have advanced other theories, including that the stick Therrien grabbed could have caused four or five linear bruises on Schultz's face and that a swelling on his left cheek might have been caused byhitting the shed or the ground.

The attorneys repeatedly stated that a pair of glasses photographed at the scene, possibly belonging to Schultz, indicated that he may have taken them off in anticipation of a fight.

In a taped statement to police by Byrum played for jurors Tuesday morning, jurors heard the defendant acknowledge his role in the fight but say he didn't kick Schultz as he lay on the ground, as the state contends.

Assistant State Attorney Willard Pope said there are minor inconsistencies in testimony, but likened them to comparing two apples when the case has to do with oranges. In the end, he said, Byrum initiated the confrontation.

Noting that the state does not have to prove that Byrum intended to kill Schultz to win a second-degree murder conviction, Pope said the state has shown Schultz engaged in actions likely to inflict harm.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the stick just isn't an issue in the death of Arthur Schultz," Pope told jurors. "Norman Byrum goes to them in the pouring rain after Helen Butler tells him that Gordon Therrien said something smart to her. You have to decide who you believe threw the first punch."

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