Morris: Charges politically motivated

Published 9:45 pm Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A state delegate who now faces four criminal charges is accusing the office of the special prosecutor handling his case of a political vendetta.

Delegate Richard Lee “Rick” Morris, a Republican who represents the 64th District, which includes parts of Suffolk, is charged with two felony counts of child cruelty and two misdemeanor counts of assault and battery of a family member.

The charges stem from allegations made last year by Morris’ wife and an adolescent child in the home.

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Morris was previously charged in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court with 14 counts of various crimes. All but one, however, were dismissed in a hearing last month in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, from which the media were barred.

According to court documents, the child told police Morris struck him on the hands and arms with a leather belt and a wooden spoon, leaving large welts and bruising; punched him in the stomach; and made him sit and stand in a corner for several days.

The complaints also accuse Morris of pushing his wife into walls, counters and pieces of furniture. Following his arrest, he took out warrants against her, accusing her of being the instigator of violence in all of those incidents. Those charges were reportedly dismissed in the December hearing.

The grand jury on Monday handed down an indictment on that one charge but also issued three direct indictments. Morris, as well as his attorney, Nicole Belote, have said the three indictments are for the same conduct already heard and dismissed in the lower court.

“Those aren’t new charges,” Morris said by phone Tuesday. “It’s the same stuff they dismissed.”

“I think the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office in Hampton definitely has their own agenda,” Morris added.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Hampton Commonwealth’s Attorney Anton Bell has given $5,100 to the Democratic Party since 2010 and also contributed $250 to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s campaign.

Shukita Massey, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in the Hampton office, is handling the case.

“It is unfortunate that the Hampton Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office has chosen to present direct indictments against Delegate Rick Morris after serious issues were exposed during and following the preliminary hearing,” Belote wrote in a press release.

Belote stated the alleged victim “was caught in numerous lies” during the preliminary hearing and informed the prosecutor he does not wish to testify. Family members “have voiced concerns about his complete lack of credibility” and how testifying would affect him.

None of those assertions could be independently verified, since the media was barred from Morris’ hearing last month.

“It seems that the prosecutor has chosen to disregard all of those issues,” Belote continued. “It is troubling that Delegate Morris will have to defend against charges that are based upon evidence that was previously presented to a judge in a hearing that lasted over six hours and ended with probable cause being established on only one charge.”

Belote said Morris will request a trial date as quickly as possible.

Massey did not return a message left at her office Tuesday seeking comment.