Delegate will not be prosecuted
Published 1:36 pm Friday, August 25, 2017
by Tracy Agnew
Special to The Tidewater News
Charges against a state lawmaker were not prosecuted during a hearing in Suffolk Circuit Court on Wednesday morning.
Richard Morris faced two counts of child cruelty and two counts of assault and battery of a family member. He was set to begin a two-day trial Wednesday, but instead prosecutor Kevin Kulp of the Hampton Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office made a motion not to prosecute the charges.
Morris said after the hearing he is considering options to sue the Suffolk Police Department for a “rush to judgment.” His wife, Kathryn Morris, said she is considering suing the Hampton Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office for slander.
“This has been a long day coming,” Richard Morris said after the hearing. “I am eternally thankful for my family, friends and supporters who stood with me on this. From Day 1, I have strongly professed my innocence, and I do so today.”
Kulp said he was forced not to prosecute, because the alleged victim, Morris’ 12-year-old stepson, is unavailable. The boy now lives with his biological father in Texas.
“Our victim is a necessary witness in the case,” Kulp said during the hearing. Although paperwork had been sent to Texas in an attempt to compel the child’s appearance, “we were not able to get service in time for today’s trial,” he said.
Defense attorney Nicole Belote said in court filings and to The Suffolk News-Herald and The Tidewater News this week that the prosecution waited too long to start the time-consuming process of having a legally binding, out-of-state subpoena served.
Kulp said in court that although he felt he could move for a continuance and perhaps have success in getting service by the speedy-trial deadline, “that is a very high-risk gamble.”
Morris, a Republican, represents the 64th District in the House of Delegates, which includes part of Suffolk. He announced earlier this year that he will not run for re-election this November.
He was arrested last September on 14 charges after his stepson accused him of beating him with a belt, punching him in the stomach and throwing hard objects at him as he did push-ups as punishment. At the time, the family lived in the 300 block of Babbtown Road. The Hampton prosecutor’s office was appointed after the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office recused itself due to a conflict of interest.
Kathryn Morris also made accusations of abuse against her husband. After he was charged, Richard Morris filed warrants against his wife, also alleging she was abusing him.
After a hearing in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in December, from which the media were barred, 13 of the charges against Richard Morris were dropped or not prosecuted. A grand jury later indicted Morris on the remaining charge plus three of the prior charges.
“This was not a case of a boy who was not doing his chores,” Richard Morris said Wednesday. The behavioral problems were much more serious, he said.
He said many punishments had been tried, including more conventional ones like withholding privileges, as well as things like jumping jacks. But Morris continued to say he never abused the boy.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Morris claimed a detective with the Suffolk Police Department “corrected” the boy’s “lies and stories” during an interview, ignored evidence that contradicted his stories and made “false statements to Kathryn’s employer to intimidate her.”
According to court documents, the detective “may have misrepresented the contents of a court order to the alleged victim’s mother’s employer.”
Police Chief Thomas Bennett, through city spokeswoman Diana Klink, said Wednesday there is an active internal affairs investigation regarding the matter. The detective is still an active employee.
Kathryn Morris said after the hearing that her son no longer wanted to be part of the trial so he would not be forced to repeat lies.
After further misbehavior, the child was sent to live with his biological father in January at the recommendation of Suffolk Child Protective Services, Kathryn Morris said.
“I love my son very much, but my son’s behavior was out of control,” she said.
In an affidavit filed May 10 by the child’s father, Dennis Herd, he said the two parents “decided it would be in the best interest of our son to come to Texas to live with me.”
Herd also said Richard Morris was involved with the discipline of the child only after Herd had given consent.
“At no time did I feel that (the child) was being abused by Rick or his mother,” Herd wrote in the affidavit.
Herd added that he had concerns with the boy having to testify again.
“I believe that it will cause undue mental anguish and that he should not be required to again take the stand. (The child) has also expressed to me that he does not wish to testify.”
In a prepared statement she read to the press after the hearing on Wednesday, Kathryn Morris denied having sent the boy away simply to hamper the trial, calling it “false” and “slander.”
“It’s a shame the child’s mother and father have decided not to cooperate,” Kulp said Wednesday, responding to Kathryn Morris’ comments, which he was told about by media representatives.
“It became very apparent through statements the parents made in the media, that they did not want the child to testify. I do not think it’s an unreasonable inference for anyone to make that perhaps the child was sent away to hamper this prosecution. Am I saying that’s what happened? No.”
Kulp said the commonwealth intends to bring the case back to trial if the child is moved back to Virginia. The charges are “very well supported,” he said.
“It’s very unfortunate,” he said. “A lot of people here put in a lot of difficult and hard work to bring this case to trial. We are now left with a great deal of uncertainty. Is this case done?”