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Attorney argues self-defense in murder trial

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

The attorney for a Jonesboro man charged with killing a patron outside a McDonough bar, said the "irate" victim attacked his client first.

Ricky Morris, attorney for Charles Edward Brown, maintained his claim that his client was attacked by 22-year-old Gregory Ryan Gilliam, of McDonough, on March 8, 2009. Brown, 45, is accused of killing Gilliam in the parking lot of the Irish Bred Pub, formerly located in McDonough.

Brown is charged with malice murder, felony murder, voluntary manslaughter and two counts of aggravated assault.

Henry County Assistant District Attorney Atha Pryor gave brief opening statements for the prosecution, calling Tuesday "an important day for the state of Georgia, and for Charles Edward Brown."

Pryor said Gilliam was in the bar with Eddie Wood and two female friends, as closing time approached. A waitress at the bar, Rebekah Thrasher, testified that Pub staffers announced "last call" for alcohol, which drew a response from Gilliam when she came to clear his table.

"Ryan approached me, and he wanted to order another round of drinks," Thrasher said. "I told him that he wouldn't be able to finish them. He said that was fine, and that he just wanted another beer before he left."

Thrasher said she began cleaning Gilliam's table shortly thereafter, took his beer from the table, and told him it was time to leave. "He got angry, and started cussing at me," said Thrasher. "His girlfriend said, 'I'm sorry that he's acting this way.' I said, 'It's OK. Go ahead and leave, before security sees you.'"

Prosecutor Pryor said Brown saw the exchange between Gilliam and Thrasher, and talked to the waitress about it. "He asked Rebekah what the problem was," Pryor told the jury. "Rebekah explained to him what was going on, at which point, Charles said, 'I'll take care of it.'" Pryor added that a confrontation and fight ensued outside the bar involving Brown, Gilliam and Wood.

"One of the last people to get up from that ... was the defendant," Pryor said. "When he got up, he did have a knife. He walked through the parking lot quickly ... in the direction where Eddie Wood had just gone."

Brown then chased Wood and Gilliam outside the bar, and stabbed Gilliam, Pryor said.

"Ryan was stabbed fatally in the shoulder area, and he had a stab wound in the back," she said. "He lay down in the parking lot, lost consciousness, and then died." Another man, Louie Daly, was cut while trying to take the knife away from Brown, according to Pryor.

Morris -- who referred to his client by the nickname, "Chaz" -- said when Gilliam encountered Thrasher inside the bar, the waitress was "distressed" and "worried" after being threatened by the victim. "Chaz walked up to them, as they were getting ready to leave the bar, and said, 'You've got to go,' Morris said. "The evidence will be that Ryan said, 'F-you, who are you?"

Morris said Gilliam cursed at Brown repeatedly, and Brown told him again to leave the bar.

"Chaz said, 'I don't care where you go or what you do, but you're out of the bar,'" Morris said. "Ryan said, 'F-you. You don't know who I am. You can't make me leave.'"

The defense attorney added that Gilliam tried to take a beer bottle with him, out of the bar. When Brown took the bottle from the victim, Gilliam "became irate," according to Morris. "Mr. Gilliam became irate, and started calling him a bunch of names, using obscenities," said Morris.

When Gilliam went outside the bar, Morris continued, Brown told him to leave the area.

"He didn't take his pocketknife out of his pocket and say, 'You need to get off this property or I'm going to stab you,'" Morris said. "He simply said, 'You need to leave, off the property.'"

Brown was then confronted by Gilliam, Wood and another person, said Morris, but "wasn't even concerned" until Wood became aggressive with him. Morris said Brown was hit in the face by Wood, then tackled from behind. "He was hit, punched, tackled and kicked," said Morris.

The defense lawyer said Brown fell to the ground, and saw 10-15 people he did not know, when he got to his feet. "At that point, he felt like he was about to get jumped," said Morris. "This is when the knife gets taken out by Chaz Brown. He reached in his pocket, pulled the knife out, opened it ... and everybody around him backed up."

Morris said Brown walked away from the group of people, just before Wood ran at him. Seconds later, Ryan Gilliam "speared" Brown, according to Morris.

"When Ryan did that, it knocked Chaz off of his feet," he said. "[Brown] hit the ground, whipped his head back and .... lacerated his head on the concrete where he fell."

Morris added that several witnesses at the scene provided inconsistent statements, regarding how Gilliam was stabbed. He said the evidence in the case would show Brown was the victim of a "beatdown" by Gilliam and Wood.

Prosecution witnesses are expected to continue testifying in the trial today.