EASTON — An Easton man was arrested Wednesday, Feb. 10 in connection with the murder of his 91-year-old neighbor, who police found dead the prior evening following what they suspect was a struggle with a burglar.
Police said they arrested Charles John Smullen, 46, after finding him driving the stolen car of his neighbor Richard Brunkhorst, who they had found dead hours earlier lying in a pool of blood on the floor inside his Easton home.
Officers with the Easton Police Department were performing a requested welfare check on Brunkhorst, 91, when they discovered him on the floor and appearing to have suffered “obvious facial and head trauma,” according to police records obtained by The Star Democrat. Officials pronounced him dead at the scene.
Police said they found overturned furniture, buttons that appeared to be from Brunkhorst’s shirt, and vintage rifles and bayonets scattered across the floor, as well as weaponry racks around the house that seemed to be missing rifles.
They also said they found a note with Smullen’s full name, a phone number and an address on it on the kitchen table. Officers went to the address listed and found a woman who identified herself as Smullen’s wife.
The woman disclosed to police that Smullen had allegedly mentioned to her last month he knew of “an older male who lived down the street and had guns Smullen was trying to get,” police said in charging documents.
A neighbor of Brunkhorst told police during their investigation that he saw a white male in a gray sweatshirt get into Brunkhorst’s car and drive off Tuesday evening, according to police records.
Police said they put out a lookout notice for Brunkhorst’s car to law enforcement agencies and reported it stolen. Maryland Transportation Authority police found Smullen in Brunkhorst’s car hours later in Anne Arundel County allegedly with several antique long rifles and a bayonet in the back seat.
Smullen reportedly had dried blood on his gray sweatshirt, his jeans and on the shoestring of his shoes, police said. Smullen was arrested and taken to the Talbot County Detention Center.
Smullen is charged with first-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault, first-degree burglary, home invasion, car theft, theft and reckless endangerment, according to online court records.
Smullen was ordered held without bond on Feb. 11 in Talbot County District Court.
District Judge James McKinney said Smullen should remain jailed because “there is certainly a risk of nonappearance” in court and “potential dangers to society” if he were to be released on any amount of bond.
Smullen’s attorney Kisha Petticolas said during a Feb. 11 bail review that Smullen is currently unemployed. Petticolas said he has a wife and four children, two of whom are under 18 years old and one who is disabled. She requested that the court set a bond that he “might be able to reasonably make.”
“He’s unemployed with sick children,” Petticolas said to the judge. “It would be a stretch to make any bond, but we’re asking the court to at least set a bond in this matter.”
Deputy State’s Attorney Ellen Grunden recommended that Smullen be held without bond because he was arrested in Anne Arundel County while “fleeing in the car stolen from the victim’s property with the victim’s firearms in his possession.”
“I think he certainly poses a flight risk based on that conduct,” Grunden said.
She also said that “the charges themselves conclusively demonstrate his threat to the persons and property of others.”
Smullen was advised not to discuss specifics of the case against him but spoke briefly during the bail review to say he’s “just been struggling with work and everything.” Smullen appeared to be trying to appeal to the judge to set a low bond.
”It’s been hard with COVID to make money,” Smullen said. “Any amount (of bond) would be hard for me to reach.”
The judge said based on the Talbot County Detention Center’s pretrial risk assessment and the seriousness of the crime with which he is charged Smullen should remain held in the jail.
Smullen is expected to appear for a preliminary hearing at 8:30 a.m. on March 2, according to online court records.