2 Convicted In Murder Of Dr. Groll

Posted: June 24, 1986

Two West Philadelphia men were found guilty yesterday by a Montgomery County jury of murder and related offenses in the New Year's Day slaying of Dr. Michael Groll, an Abington fertility specialist.

Several members of the jury, which had deliberated for almost 25 hours over four days and has been sequestered for more than a week, wept quietly yesterday as jury foreman Gerald Dotterer delivered the verdict in a hushed courtroom shortly before 2 p.m.

David Steward, 26, of the 1300 block of North 57th Street, was found guilty of first-degree murder and faces a possible death penalty. Christopher Briggman, 24, of the 500 block of North 56th Street, was found guilty of second-degree murder and faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

First Briggman, then Steward, rose and faced Dotterer as he repeated the word "guilty" over and over as the list of charges was read. Each defendant stood stiffly and withheld any outward show of emotion when his time came to face the jury. Briggman chewed slowly on what apparently was a stick of gum.

Groll's widow, Mary, sat with her hands clasped on her lap as the verdict was read. Her father and mother were by her side as she diverted her eyes downward and stared at her hands. Her father touched and rubbed her arm.

Not long after the verdict was delivered, the 12-member jury began hearing testimony to decide whether Steward should be sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. Deliberations were expected to get under way later today on that question.

Afterward, Mary Groll said the verdict seemed "reasonable" in view of the amount of information the jury was permitted to consider.

"Unfortunately, there's no verdict this jury could have come up with that would have brought my husband back, and that, of course, would have been the most important thing to me," she said.

Married to the doctor for 23 years, Mary Groll said that she believed both men deserved to have been found guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of her husband, which occurred in the second-floor bedroom of the Grolls' home in the Rydal section of Abington Township.

"If the defendants had given my husband one minor fraction of the chance the law gave them, we would be in a different situation today," Mary Groll said in a voice filled with emotion.

Groll's mother, Elizabeth, said she, too, felt that both men should have been found guilty of the same charges because they both entered the Grolls' darkened split-level home "prepared to kill."

Elizabeth Groll said she felt it was her duty as a mother to listen to the testimony in the trial. "He was very dear to me," she said of her son, ''just like he was with other people."

The 46-year-old physician, one of the nation's leading endocrinologists and a specialist in female infertility problems, died at Abington Memorial Hospital of a gunshot wound to the chest.

Steward and Briggman have been held without bail since their arrest two weeks after the incident. Neither man testified during the trial, and only one defense witness was called to the stand.

Briggman's attorney, Thomas W. Moore of Philadelphia, said that he was ''disappointed" with the verdict and planned to ask for a new trial on behalf of his client.

"The evidence wasn't there," he said. The jurors "were overwhelmed by who the decedent was. . . . I don't think it was a racial situation. I think it was a human situation."

Steward's attorney, Arthur H. James, also from Philadelphia, said that in the sentencing hearing, he planned to call several witnesses on behalf of his client, including Steward's landlord, some of his former college professors, family members and a minister.

"I'm pleased with the fact that the jury seems to be intelligent," he said. "And they seem to be weighing all the relevant factors that we brought up. Maybe as a result thereof, they will not impose a death penalty, and that's what I hope for."

Mary Groll, the first of 17 prosecution witnesses to testify at the trial, identified Steward as one of the two men she awoke to see standing at the foot of her bed early New Year's Day.

She told the jury that it was almost dreamlike at first. She and her husband had returned to their home after seeing the film A Chorus Line and

went to bed early on New Year's Eve. They were awakened by two intruders shortly after midnight who ordered them to "roll over, roll over," she said.

Her husband propped himself up on an elbow and with the other arm pointed at one of the men, telling them both to leave. It was then, she told the jury with controlled emotion, that she heard two gunshots in rapid succession. ''My husband slumped back and eventually rolled off the bed and onto the floor," she said.

One of the intruders, whom she identified as Steward, demanded her gold wedding band and another ring she was wearing. She said she got a good look at Steward before the pair fled with jewelry and about $400 in cash. Two of her three children were home at the time but were not harmed.

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