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Judge rules on Morris' statements

August 01, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - Brandon Morris told an investigator that he remembered watching television with the correctional officer guarding him at Washington County Hospital Jan. 26, but didn't recall how he ended up surrounded by police, holding a gun, a fistful of cash and wearing only boxer shorts after the officer was shot, according to court documents.

During a pretrial hearing Monday, Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III ruled that Morris' statements to the investigator, excluding those he made after asking for an attorney, may be used as evidence in his October trial on charges he killed Roxbury Correctional Institution Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten.

Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty if Morris, 20, is found guilty of any of the three first-degree murder counts handed up against him in a February indictment in Wroten's Jan. 27 death. Wroten, 44, was shot once in the head at about 5 a.m. Jan. 26 while guarding Morris in a Washington County Hospital room.

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Wright suppressed statements Morris made about his medical condition to police while he was held at Hagerstown Police Department headquarters. Officers' observations of Morris were allowed as evidence.

Wright also dismissed four duplicate regulated firearms charges against Morris during the Monday hearing. Neither the defense nor the prosecution asked that the trial be moved to another county, an automatic right afforded Morris since he faces the death penalty.

Morris, who, since his arrest on a parole retake warrant has been held at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, commonly called Supermax, in Baltimore, was brought into the courtroom Monday bound heavily with restraints. One of his attorneys, District Public Defender Michael Morrissette, requested that Morris' restraints, including "a pain-inflicting device on his forearm," be removed for the hearing. Wright allowed officers to remove the shackles and restraints.

"He is presumed to be innocent by law. We just request that he be treated that way," Morrissette said.

Hagerstown Police Department Officer Benjamin Lyncha testified that he helped apprehend Morris on FedEx property at about 6 a.m. Jan. 26. He testified that when officers got close to Morris, he brought the silver handgun he was holding to his head.

Morris was taken to Hagerstown Police Department headquarters and booked, Lyncha testified. Lyncha testified that he observed scratches on Morris' body, "an IV in his leg and a scrape on his knee." He testified that Morris, who was wearing only boxer shorts and "at least one sock," was agile during the chase.

One of Morris' attorneys, Assistant Public Defender Eric Reed, asked why no one sought medical help for Morris. Lyncha said Morris didn't request it. Morris was hospitalized to have a "foreign object" removed from his liver, but did not tell a Maryland State Police investigator during his recorded statement what happened at Roxbury on Jan. 25 that caused the injury, according to the transcript.

Maryland State Police Investigator Trooper 1st Class Richard Bachtell testified that he took Morris to the hospital after picking him up from Hagerstown police headquarters. He testified that a doctor examined him in the driveway of the emergency room for "about three to four minutes" and determined he was fine.

Morris got a McDonald's Happy Meal before Bachtell questioned him at the state police Hagerstown barrack, Bachtell testified.

According to a transcript of Morris' recorded statement, Morris told Bachtell he remembered conversations with Wroten. Wroten, who was identified only as the last correctional officer to guard Morris that morning, enjoyed "Lord of the Rings" and Bruce Lee movies, according to Morris.

Morris said in the statement that he didn't remember removing his shackles, taking Wroten's gun and shooting him.

"That's crazy," Morris told Bachtell after the trooper listed charges Morris could possibly face in connection with the shooting.

"Yeah, and the only thing that you're not explaining to me is the 20 minutes when those crimes were committed," Bachtell told him.

"I don't know nothing about it," Morris said.

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