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Seeking justice: Twelve homicides in Longview since 2008 remain unsolved

By Richard Yeakley
July 14, 2012 at 11 p.m.


John Wesley Morris Sr. was murdered for a few dollars in his wallet.

"They killed him for what they thought he had - $20, $30, $50," said John Morris Jr. "It was senseless."

The 80-year-old man was savagely bashed in the back of his head July 31, 2010, in his home bait shop on Pliler Precise Road by someone whom, police believe, was a customer of the shop.

<em><strong>Editor's note:</strong> This is part one of a three-part series. For more information on Longview homicides in the past five years, visit <a href="http://www.news-journal.com/news/homicides/" target="_blank">news-journal.com/news/homicides</a>.</em>

John Wesley Morris Sr. was murdered for a few dollars in his wallet.

"They killed him for what they thought he had - $20, $30, $50," said John Morris Jr. "It was senseless."

The 80-year-old man was savagely bashed in the back of his head July 31, 2010, in his home bait shop on Pliler Precise Road by someone whom, police believe, was a customer of the shop.

Two years later, the man's son is still haunted by the memories of that day - and the memories of the next six weeks spent watching his father slowly die.

"I was here at the house when mom called me and said, 'Dad is injured,' " Morris recalled. "It was my birthday when my daddy was robbed."

That year, Morris Sr. was one of nine people murdered in Longview. Of those cases, police have solved three - one of those suspects was no-billed by a grand jury, meaning jurors decided there was not enough evidence for an indictment.

The other two victims in the solved cases were Joshua Kelly, who was shot to death by his sister's former boyfriend, and Jorge Rivera, who was shot in the face during an argument. In each of those cases, both involving known suspects, prosecutors were able to obtain convictions.

<strong>What is 'solved'?</strong>

"Case solved" is defined by law enforcement agencies as any investigation that leads to the identification of a named suspect and, in the assessment of detectives, in which there is no further investigation to be done - even if a suspect is never brought to trial.

"There are a lot of times that people are left with a sense of justice denied - and it is unfortunate," said Phillip Lyons, professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University, concerning the definition of a solved case. "It happens when police or an agency is sure they have found the right person even if the grand jury is not ready to go forward."

An analysis of data obtained from Longview police and Gregg County judicial records determined that of the 35 homicides in the city since 2008, police have solved 23 cases - including four cases that were no-billed by grand juries and one in which the suspect was never arrested.

Two other cases were closed by "exceptional circumstance." In one case, the murder suspect committed suicide after police say he fatally shot his wife and son.

Twelve cases, including the beating death of John Morris Sr., remain unsolved.

<strong>Below average</strong>

In a comparison with the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting system for the United States, Longview police have an average solvency rate of 63 percent. Compared with agencies in the FBI's southern region of the country, which average a 70.1 percent rate closure rate, the Longview Police Department is below average.

Agencies in cities with a population from 50,000 to 100,000 residents solve an average of 67.8 percent of homicide cases, again putting Longview police performance slightly below average.

Gregg County District Attorney Carl Dorrough said "solved" is a relative term.

"Police departments in general will call a case solved when they send it away for prosecution," Dorrough said. "'Solved' is something we (prosecutors) don't talk about. We focus on sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

Of the 23 homicide cases since 2008 that Longview police consider solved, Dorrough's office has obtained nine convictions.

Five other cases are making their way through the judicial process.

John Morris Sr.'s case is not one of them - an unforgettable fact for his family.

"Your heart still breaks, and you have your moments," said Morris Jr.

Choking back tears, the brawny contractor spoke of his mother. "She's still in grief dealing with my daddy. She's OK - but she struggles."

<strong>'Walking in limbo'</strong>

Verna Lee Carr, victim advocate specialist and executive advisor for People Against Violent Crimes, said such situations always are the most difficult.

"It seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel for these people," she said.

Carr has spent her professional career working with families whose loved ones were murdered, including East Texans. She said it is far harder for surviving family members to cope with the loss when a suspect has not been found or convicted.

"They are walking in limbo," she said. "I find it is easier for them to deal with what they know - it's what they don't know; it's the imagination."

Even with a conviction, Carr said, a homicide can haunt the surviving family members for decades.

"We expect to lose our parents, and we expect to lose our friends, but the one thing that is not the normal in life is to lose a loved one by the plans and choice of another human being," she said.

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