Charges against lawmaker in jeopardy

Published 10:55 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Attorneys for both sides of the case against state lawmaker Richard Morris said Tuesday they expect the charges to be not prosecuted when the case finally arrives in Circuit Court on Wednesday.

Morris was set to begin a two-day trial Wednesday on two counts of child cruelty and two counts of assault and battery of a family member.

But problems serving a subpoena to the alleged victim, Morris’ 12-year-old stepson, have delayed the case for quite some time, and it has now reached the point where it cannot be delayed any further.

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“As far as speedy trial is concerned, we’ve run out of time,” said Kevin Kulp, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in the office of the Hampton Commonwealth’s Attorney, which was handling the case due to the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office deciding it had a conflict of interest.

Kulp took over the case about three weeks ago, when the attorney handling it prior to him left the office. Kulp is now the third attorney in the Hampton office to handle the case.

The charges against Morris stemmed from alleged abuse of his stepson as well as his wife at their home in the 300 block of Babbtown Road in Suffolk. He was arrested in September 2016.

In December, most charges against Morris were dropped or not prosecuted after a hearing in Suffolk Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, from which the judge barred the media.

One charge moved forward following that hearing, but a grand jury indicted Morris on three more charges anyway.

The youngster now lives in Texas with his biological father, defense attorney Nicole Belote said.

Kulp said the process of getting an out-of-state subpoena is complicated and time-consuming. A court in Virginia would have to certify a subpoena is necessary. A court in the witness’s home jurisdiction — in this case, Nueces County, Texas — would then have to hold a hearing before it could order the witness to appear.

Kulp said a prosecutor in Hampton working a case in Suffolk with a judge from Winchester and an out-of-state witness proved problematic.

“You’ve got all these layers that add time, and we simply were not able to get everything done,” he said.

The boy’s parents have told media outlets they did not want him to have to testify again. Kulp said it would be difficult to prove the boy was taken out of state solely to prevent that.

“That would be almost impossible to prove,” he said. “We sort of hit a brick wall when the family decided to take the victim out of state. We’ve had very little communication.”

By taking the route of not prosecuting the charges, Kulp said, the commonwealth could bring the charges back if the witness became available.

Retired judge John E. Wetsel Jr. of Winchester will hear the case at 9 a.m. Wednesday. He was appointed after Suffolk’s Circuit Court judges recused themselves.