Morrow convicted of first-degree murder

Sentence is life without parole
By DeeAnna Haney | Mar 29, 2013
Photo by: DeeAnna Haney Michael Morrow as he appeared in court Thursday before closing arguments.

Amanda Morrow’s family embraced Thursday after a jury found her husband, Michael David Morrow, guilty of murdering her two years ago.

After a three-week trial, jurors deliberated for 28 minutes before returning guilty verdicts for first-degree murder and possession of a firearm while under a domestic violence protection order.

The 42-year-old now faces life in prison without parole for the crime that happened in the early morning hours of Oct. 16, 2010, when he strangled and then fatally shot his wife.

Morrow received the maximum sentence for the charge, but that did not offer closure to Amanda’s mother, Dottie Smith.

“There is never closure when there is a death,” she said.

But there is some consolation in remembering her daughter, who was always smiling and loved her job as a seventh-grade math teacher.

“She loved learning and doing new things and was  always excited when she could teach the kids a new concept and they understood it,” Smith said. “We’ll miss her every day.”

She was also close to her son, Chris Smith, who was a senior at Tuscola High School at the time of her murder. She had just left the Pisgah/Tuscola football game in which he played hours before her death.

He is now a sophomore at East Tennesee State University.

Morrow’s ex-wife, Lauren Burress, said she was relieved to hear the verdict. Earlier in the trial, she testified that he had choked her into unconsciousness and threatened to kill her during their marriage.

“I’m real sorry for the family’s loss, but at least now I can lay my head down at night and know he can’t get to me and my family,” she said.


Closing arguments

Attorneys spent most of the morning making their final arguments in the case before the jury was escorted out to make their decision. The decision was based on two and a half weeks worth of witness testimony and circumstantial evidence.

The state had to prove Morrow acted with malice, premeditation and deliberation when he shot Amanda Morrow, causing her death.

During closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Rachael Groffsky reminded the jury that the case is not just about Morrow.

“This case revolves around this woman,” Groffsky said, holding up a picture of Amanda Morrow. “This is Amanda Smith Morrow. She is the daughter of Dottie and Wayne Smith. She was the mother of her 18-year-old son, Chris. She was a friend, a teacher and a member of our community. That is what this is all about,” Groffsky said.

Both Groffsky and fellow Assistant District Attorney Jeff Jones, described the actions that led to Amanda Morrow’s death.

During an earlier interview with detectives, Morrow recalled punching his wife in the face while she was in her car and then when she ran away screaming for help, went back to his car and retrieved a gun. He also confessed to the crime upon questioning the next day.

“That’s all the premeditation and deliberation you need,” Jones said.

Morrow then “hunted” her down, he said, choked her against the wall of her neighbor’s house and then shot her in the temple.

“He wanted to make sure she was dead…He wanted to kill her and he wanted to make sure it was done the right way,” Groffsky said.

Jones pointed out that Morrow’s recollection of that night during the interview reflected evidence presented in the case — arguing with his wife, losing custody of his children and his wife’s injuries.


The defense

Morrow’s lawyer, J. Michael Edney, argued that his client’s state of mind was in question that night. Stress from his relationship with Amanda Morrow and losing custody of his three children two weeks prior had taken a toll, he said.

Expert witnesses for the defense testified to the belief that Morrow suffers from cognitive impairment, which keeps him from being able to think through his actions when in stressful situations.

They also testified that Morrow was drunk at the time of the murder.

Throughout the trial, Edney has questioned the actions of law enforcement involved in the case, particularly the chain of custody of evidence and the interrogation of Morrow.

“I think we’ve had serious problems in this case primarily based on the training of the officers,” he said.

He urged the jury to consider that Morrow could have given a false confession because of the way Dets. Mark Mease and Jim Schick conducted the interview on Oct. 17, 2010.

“It’s all tricks and head games they use to get somebody to say something. You can make up for a lot of screw ups if you’ve got a confession,” Edney said.

Following the verdict, and Superior Court Judge Bradley Letts’ sentence, Morrow filed for appeal.

Assistant District Attorneys Rachael Groffsky and Jeff Jones offered thanks to everyone involved in the trial including law enforcement, witnesses and jurors.

“We would express our condolences to the family of Amanda Smith (Morrow), and we would applaud and thank the efforts of law enforcement, particularly Mark Mease and Jim Schick. It was their investigation and efforts that lead to his confession,”

Jones said they were confident in the case from the beginning.

“We felt like the evidence was strong and straightforward,” he said, adding that compelling witness testimony from Amanda Morrow’s family and friends contributed to the conviction.

But the strongest piece of evidence, they said, was the video of Morrow confessing to the murder.

“The ADA’s that handled this did a superb job being prepared and presenting the evidence,” said District Attorney Mike Bonfoey. “Amanda’s death was a tragedy and we are very happy with the jury’s verdict.”