Ashley Morrison

Ashley Morrison

62nd District Judge Will Biard denied a motion Thursday to transfer a punishment trial for Ashley Morrison, of Paris, who pleaded guilty in November for her role in the 2014 murder of retired North Lamar ISD teacher Annie Lois Sims.

Morrison’s court-appointed attorney, Heath Hyde of Sulphur Springs, requested the change of venue due to media attention that surrounds the case. The publicity could prevent Morrison from receiving a fair trial, he said.

“I think it was her age at the time, being part of a school here in the county,” Hyde said, pointing out Morrison’s connection to North Lamar. Despite the passage of time, Hyde argued Morrison’s case was still receiving a high level of attention.

Lamar County Assistant District Attorney Jill Drake questioned the extent of the publicity.

“I don’t think the issue is really publicity that may have been in this case is at the forefront of the people in our community; it’s how much has that permeated and affected our community?” she said. “We believe we have not had any evidence to that in this hearing today.”

Morrison, now 22, heads back to trial March 2. First tried in July 2017, she was handed a 30-year sentence in a Smith County court for her role in Sims’ death. A Texarkana appellate court reversed the decision and ordered a new trial in March 2019.

Morrison pleaded guilty in exchange for a prison sentence not to exceed 30 years, according to Lamar District Attorney Gary Young.

Morrison was 19 in July 2017 when she was sentenced in the murder case. Sims was found dead in her Powderly home with multiple gunshot wounds a week before Christmas 2014. Morrison and her boyfriend, Christian Vernon Sims, were arrested at a Motel 6 in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, later that night. The teens waived extradition and were returned to Lamar County on Dec. 23, 2014.

In October 2016, Christian Sims was found guilty of murdering his 66-year-old grandmother and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

In a 41-page opinion issued in March 2019, the Appellate Court found court-appointed attorney Dave Turner ineffective in Morrison’s defense. The court also found the prosecutor erred in using detailed billing information filed by Turner with the district clerk, against Morrison during the trial. Paris attorney Michael Mosher represented Morrison on appeal.

“We find that both Ashley Eva Morrison’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel and her Sixth Amendment right to be free from state intrusion into the attorney-client relationship were violated,” the opinion reads.

Until she was returned to Lamar County in early May 2019, Morrison had been confined in the Hilltop and Mountain View Prison Units in Gatesville. Until her conviction was overturned, she would not have been released until Dec. 23, 2044. She would have been eligible for parole Dec. 23, 2029.

She remains in the Lamar County Jail, according to online records.

Macon Atkinson is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6963 or macon.atkinson@theparisnews.com.

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