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Morse found guilty of Lookout Valley triple murder, sentenced to life without parole

Derek Morse trial 2.jpg


Jurors announced Wednesday morning they had reached a verdict.

They found Derek Morse guilty on all three counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

The family could be heard sighing and crying as the verdict was read.

A sentencing hearing for Morse got underway after a break for lunch.

Lawyers called out family members of the murder victims before the jury came out for the sentencing. The mother of Caleb Boozer spoke first.

This testimony, the jury was brought in, and the prosecution and defense made their arguments.

The judge then charged the jury in the sentencing hearing, and explained the difference between life in prison with parole and without parole.

This story will be updated.

UPDATE: (Tuesday)

Judge Barry Steeleman overturned his own ruling that that the prosecution could use photos from Derek Morse's phone. The photos were of guns supposedly used in the murders. One of them was taken on the night of the murders.

Judge Steeleman now says prosecutors can't use those photos before the jury, because the photos were not presented to the defense before defense was able to look at them.

He says the photos do exist on the phone, but the prosecution was not able to say where the photos came from, or who took the photo.

Then, the defense announced that Morse would not testify.

The judge charged the jury, giving them documents to explain the charges, and responsibilities of their position.

Both sides then presented closing arguments.

In their closing argument, the state relied heavily on lone survivor Matt Callan's testimony. Callan identified Derek Morse in the lineup.

The defense said Callan's story did not match ballistics evidence and that he said Morse was wearing dark clothes, though Morse was wearing white and khaki on the night of the murders. Another witness also said that the shooter wore dark colors.

Morse's DNA was never found on the guns.

The court took a quick break, and then the jury returned before deliberations began.

After several hours of deliberation, the jury asked to go home for the night. Judge Steelman asked them to return on Wednesday at 9AM.

Depend on us to keep you posted.


UPDATE: (Monday)

Monday afternoon, the state rested its case against Derek Morse.

Before resting, the state called one more witness, Eric Qualls. He is the safety and intelligence officer at the jail.

They played a recording of a call Derek made to someone at the intake portion of the jail on April 10th, 2014, which was the day after the murders.

On the recording, he can be heard telling the person on the other end to grab a pen and paper. He then told her where he was at each point of the day on April 9th.

Morse denies any involvement during that phone call from jail intake.

After that, the state rested.

The defense then moved to acquit Morse, and the state rebutted, citing Callan's testimony.

The judge then said that the court is in recess until further notice.

The judge and attorneys later returned to the courtroom without the jury. Defense Attorney Dan Ripper asked that evidence recovered from Derek Morse's cell phone not be used in evidence, saying that Morse received it the night before the trial and did not have time to look through it.

535 photos and videos were downloaded from Morse's phone. The search warrant was signed last Monday, and the phone has been in the sheriff's custody since April 10, 2014.

The judge allowed the state to show him the pictures from Morse's phone, including pictures of guns said to be used in the murders. One picture showed Skylar Allen firing a gun. On a table nearby is the .22 rifle investigators say was used in the murders.

Another picture was of an address belonging to Bob King - the investigator says Morse bought one of the guns from King.

The state said that they still stand by the fact that the photos will be to cross examine Derek Morse.

Defense attorney Ripper and the judge both asked the state why they waited until the day before the trial to get a search warrant for the phone, especially since the state has had it since the day after the murders.

Ripper asked for time to speak with Morse about the photos and whether or not he will testify.

The trial will resume Tuesday at 1:00pm. Judge Steelman says he plans to charge the jury and have closing arguments Tuesday.

Depend on us for updates as we get them.


UPDATE: (Friday)

Friday began with a TBI forensic biologist continuing to testify.

She tested Derek Morse's car, blood on scene and the guns recovered near I-24.

She said the test on DNA on the pistol found a major contributor (meaning a full profile for someone) but didn't match any of the three suspects (Morse, Skylar Allen, Jacob Allison). She said the DNA on the rifle was inconclusive.

The defense then questioned her, saying it was clear someone left a fingerprint on the pistol, but after receiving a full, accurate sample from Derek Morse and other suspects it doesn't match them.

Then a gunfire analyst from the TBI took the stand. She tested Derek Morse's clothes he was supposedly wearing on the night of the murders.

She testified they tested positive for gunshot residue, meaning he was near a weapon when it fired or came in contact with a gun after it was fired.

The analyst explained there's no way to tell what gun was fired or how many times it was fired.

Testimony broke for lunch, and the defense will cross-examine this witness after that.

After cross-examination, Michael Shavers took the stand. He is Jacob Allison's half-brother who had been charged with attempted murder after police said he shot his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend at a Waffle House in Lookout Valley.

Michael Shavers says he's been friends with Derek Morse for a long time.

On the night of the murders, Shavers says he was staying at America's Best Value Inn in Lookout Valley. Around 8-9pm, Morse, Skylar Allen, and Jacob Allison came to the hotel. They left and Allison and Morse came back. He says Allison kept looking out the window and Derek at one point said "he let his emotions get the best of him".

Shavers says he and Morse were in jail together at one point. Morse confided in him at the time.

Shavers says Morse told him "I killed 3 people" and described in detail how Jacob Allison drove that night. When they drove by John Lang's property the first time, they saw the men (Matt Callan, Boozer, Morris, and Lang) with what they thought were guns at the time. It was later determined they had BB guns.

Shavers says Derek told him he told Allison to stop and Derek got out of the car and fired his gun across the top of the car. He says Derek admitted to shooting Lang in the head, then shot Boozer.

Shavers says after that, Allison, Allen and Morse went to Allison's grandparents and played basketball and then hid the guns in a safe in his grandmother's sewing room.

The defense then questioned him.

He originally told police where Derek hid the guns, off I-24, but Shavers and his cousin moved the guns there later.

Defense now says since he's lied to police before (about where the guns were hidden) that he could be lying now.

This story will be updated.

UPDATE: (Thursday):

Testimony resumed on Thursday.

Testimony started with Brandon Jackson taking the stand. He was Jon Morris' brother-in-law.

During his testimony, he had an outburst, but Judge Barry Steelman decided his testimony is relevant to the case.

Jackson testified he recognized Derek's car the night of the shootings. He said he noticed a dent in the back of the car from a tire iron he used on the car before.

He said the only person he really recognized was Jacob Allison, who's another suspect in the triple murder

Jackson testified he saw them get out and load their guns at the top of the hill, before driving down and shooting at the RV where the four men were.

Jackson then talked more about an incident at the Food Lion in Lookout Valley on April 4th, 2014, four days before the murders.

He testified that he and Jon Morris set up a marijuana exchange with Derek Morse, and says their intent was to jump Morse for the $20 he owed Morris.

He said Morris stayed in the driver's seat and Jackson and a third person (referred to as Dan) got out so they could sneak up on Morse.

Jackson testified that Morse noticed him and the third person in the brake lights and turned around and pulled out a gun. Jackson says he started firing the gun, that's when Jackson says he hit the Morse's car with a tire iron.

He says both cars then raced out of the parking lot. Jackson says Morse went right out of the Food Lion parking lot and Morris went left.

Jackson testified that Morris then drove back into parking lot, switched seats and had Jackson drive. At that point Jackson says he drove into a nearby subdivision at 75-80 mph and wrecked the car. He said Morse's car was nowhere to be found.

The defense then pointed out that Morse did not force them into a ditch where they wrecked.

Jackson is currently serving time in Georgia.

Then, Joshua Maples took the stand. He testified that he was hanging out with friends at Food Lion and saw the incident between Morris and Morse. He said he knew Morse from living nearby and recognized him that night.

Five days later, when he heard about the triple homicide, Maples went to THP to tell them what happened and how he thought Morse had killed Jon Morris.

Two more witnesses were brought to the stand - both representatives from stores with surveillance video.

One of the the witnesses is from Walmart, and showed Derek Morse and one other person in the sporting goods department.

The next witness was a Mapco representative. The surveillance video from the store shows Derek Morse and another person getting gas in Trenton, Georgia about an hour after the murders.

The court viewed another surveillance video from a Subway in Tiftonia. Skylar Allen and Derek Morse could be seen inside. A black car pulls up and Derek buys a sandwich.

Prosecutors also called the owner of a hotel in Lookout Valley. Surveillance video showed the suspects going in and out of the hotel. Someone was seen climbing into the trunk of another car.

The clothes Derek Morse was seen wearing in the surveillance videos and that were collected by police do not match what witnesses testified he was wearing.

Jacob Allison's half brother Michael Shavers told police where to find the guns - those found near Interstate 24.

Court will resume at 10:30AM Friday.

Depend on us for updates as we get them.

UPDATE (Wednesday):

Testimony continued Tuesday morning.

Dr. Steven Cogswell resumed his testimony and provided details about Caleb Boozer's autopsy.

He testified that Boozer was shot 15 times, in the head, face, stomach, legs, buttocks and chest. He said the final shot, to his head, was what killed him.

Jurors were shown the bullets used and a graph showing where Boozer was shot.

The defense cross-examined Dr. Cogswell, asking him why Boozer wasn't tested for marijuana during the autopsy.

Then, Trooper David McVey took the stand.

He was called to the scene as backup to one other trooper. He testified that he discovered the three bodies on the scene. One was slumped over in a chair, one was halfway under an RV, and one was down an embankment. He said he never saw survivor Matthew Callan.

McVey testified that he unknowingly parked his motorcycle in what investigators later determined was the crime scene (the whole driveway). He said he had to wait several hours until they cleared him.

McVey testified that Morris' sister was there when he got there. He said she was panicked and said her brother was somewhere nearby. She later shouted from her home when she spotted his body under the camper.

Then, the shooting's lone survivor, Matthew Callan took the stand.

Callan identified the suspect, Derek Morse, in court by pointing at him.

He testified that he saw Morse get out of the back passenger seat, stare down John Lang, and then grab a rifle out of his car.

Callan was shot in the back as he started to run. He testified that he realized later he was actually shot five times - in the back, collarbone, neck, arm and leg.

He testified that he laid in an embankment and says he saw Morse and Skylar Allen shoot Caleb Boozer five times in the chest. He said Boozer begged for his life and that he saw Allen shoot him two more times in the head.

Callan testified that he saw Skylar and Morse pull John Morris out from under the camper. He said he thinks Morse was out of bullets at this point, because he only saw Skylar shooting by the time he was laying down.

He testified that he heard Morse say "make sure they're all dead."

Then, Callan says he ran home and his mom called 911. Jurors then heard that 911 call.

8 women and 5 men are on the jury.

Rodger Brown, a crime scene detective for Hamilton County Sheriff's Office took the stand. The court went through crime scene photos, evidence markers, and what was found on scene.

The court viewed photos taken during the search of Derek Morse's car. In the trunk, investigators found an owner's manual for a Smith & Wesson handgun and a bullet. They also found several shell casings in the rest of the car.

The prosecution showed the jury a gun case and three guns found in the woods off of Interstate 24. The defense then cross-examined detective Brown.

Molly Morris, sister of Jon Morris, took to the stand to testify. Troopers say they found her on the scene and screaming when they got there.

Morris says that when she went home, she saw her brother Jon laying under the RV.

Court dismissed for the day, and the trial resumes at 8:30AM Thursday morning with the jury being brought back in at 9:30AM.

Depend on us to bring you updates on this trial as we get them.

PREVIOUSLY:

The trial for a man accused of killing three people in Lookout Valley back in 2014 began Tuesday in Hamilton County Criminal Court.

Derek Morse is one of three suspects charged in the deaths of Caleb Boozer, Jon Morris and John Lang on April 9th, 2014.

Prosecutors Prosecutors say Jacob Allison drove Skyler Allen and Derek Morse to an RV lot on Kelly's Ferry Road that day. There, court records show Allen and Morse opened fire and killed Boozer, Morris, and Lang.

Police say Allen and Morse also shot Michael Callan, who managed to escape, and later testify against the alleged attackers.

Prosecutors believe the murders may have been connected to a 20-dollar debt.

According to court records, the third co-defendant in the case, Jacob Allison, faces the same charges but is not scheduled to go to trial.

Related | Lookout Valley murder suspect arrested, charged

The jury for Morse's trial was selected and sworn in Tuesday afternoon, and the trial began afterwards.

Representing Derek Morse is attorney Daniel Ripper.

Cameron Williams is the lead prosecutor.

You can watch the Facebook stream of the trial here. (WARNING: video may contain graphic content)

The trial took a 10 minute recess, and court resumed afterward (WARNING: video may contain graphic content)

NewsChannel 9's Stephanie Santostazi was in the courtroom.


This story will be updated.

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