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Witness: Morris told Wroten 'I'm gonna kill you'

January 14, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

ELLICOTT CITY, MD. ? Brandon T. Morris crouched over a Roxbury Correctional Institution officer in a hospital room and said in a deep, angry voice, "'I'm gonna kill you, you (expletive).'" A split second later he shot the man, Washington County Hospital nurse Rachael Yeagy Horner testified Monday afternoon.

Prosecutors on Monday began presenting evidence against Morris, 22, who is charged with first-degree murder and other crimes in the January 2006 shooting of Jeffery A. Wroten, 44, of Martinsburg, W.Va., in room No. 5006 at the hospital.

Morris, who reiterated his not guilty plea to 32 charges Friday in Howard County Circuit Court, could face the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder.

Morris' trial was moved from Washington County to Howard County, a right granted to anyone in Maryland who faces a possible death penalty.

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After the shooting, Morris briefly took a hospital visitor hostage before carjacking a taxi, robbing the driver and forcing him at gunpoint to drive Morris on a chase into Pennsylvania and back to Maryland before Morris was captured, according to court records.

MCI officer heard nurses screaming

Washington County Hospital nursing assistant Dorothy Reed heard a gunshot in the early-morning hours of Jan. 26, 2006, she testified Monday afternoon. Reed ran into the hallway, where she saw Morris holding a gun in one hand and the mother of a hospital patient with the other, she testified.

Another nurse told Morris to let the woman go and she slipped from his grasp. Morris then ran down the hospital hallway toward an exit, Reed testified.

A Maryland Correctional Institution officer was guarding another inmate on the same floor on the morning of Jan. 26, 2006, when Wroten was shot. Gary Lloyd heard "a bunch of nurses screaming" and someone say that a prisoner had just shot a guard, he testified Monday. Lloyd saw nurses pointing to a room.

"As soon as I looked in the room, I saw Officer Wroten laying on his back. I saw blood ... blood was just all over the place," Lloyd testified.

Prosecutors contend Morris shot Wroten as part of a calculated escape plan that began when he jabbed a sewing needle into his liver at RCI and sought medical help. Morris was serving an eight-year sentence for assault, robbery and handgun convictions.

Morris refused treatment at the RCI infirmary Jan. 25, 2006, testified Audrey Haller, a registered nurse working at the prison that day. Morris told her he stabbed himself, Haller testified. Inmates often like to go to the infirmary, she said.

Defense attorney Arcangelo Tuminelli said Friday during opening statements that Morris did stab himself in an effort to get to the hospital, but not as part of a grand escape scheme. Visiting the hospital is like a vacation for inmates, Tuminelli said.

Correctional officers said Morris was cooperative

Several correctional officers who were assigned to transport Morris to the hospital and guard him there testified Monday that Morris was cooperative and completely unrestrained at times. Morris frequently asked to use the restroom and complained of nausea during his stay at the hospital, the officers testified.

One of Morris' legs was in a shackle, with the other end of the shackle attached to the hospital bed, Cpl. Glen Barnes testified Monday. When the inmate had to go to the bathroom, the shackle was taken off the bed and placed around Morris' other leg, Barnes testified. Barnes warned Wroten about Morris' complaints about nausea and frequent requests to use the restroom, he testified.

Wroten said his evening guarding Morris would be an "easy post," Barnes said.

One nurse testified that when she went to give Morris antibiotics around 12 a.m. Jan. 26, 2006, he was returning from the restroom. She did not think he was shackled at the time, she testified.

Throughout the night, the light was on in Morris' hospital room, where Wroten sat in a chair and the television blared, several health care workers testified.

At one point, Reed, went to check Morris' vital signs and called to him but couldn't wake the inmate. She touched him, and Morris woke suddenly, as if startled, and raised his fists, Reed testified. Wroten quietly soothed the inmate and after a few moments, Reed was able to check his vitals, she said.

Doctor kept Morris for observation

Morris was nervous and asked a lot of questions about his treatment and about the doctor's qualifications, Dr. Marc Kross testified Monday afternoon. Kross removed the sewing needle from Morris' liver and decided the inmate should be kept at the hospital overnight for observation in case the injury started bleeding, he testified.

After Morris was captured by law enforcement after the chase, Kross examined the inmate in a police car to ensure he could safely be transported to a higher-security facility. He did not want Morris taken back to the hospital because emotions were running high after the shooting, Kross testified.

Tracey Wroten, the ex-wife of Jeffery Wroten, was the first witness to take the stand Monday. She testified that Wroten was disco dancing with his four daughters the afternoon before he went to the hospital, where he picked up an overtime shift guarding Morris overnight.

Following her testimony, Tracey Wroten remained in the courtroom, sitting with a correctional officer and some family members for the rest of the day.

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