After the Sixth Appellate Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed the July 2017 murder conviction and sentence of Ashley Eva Morrison, District Attorney Gary Young said he plans to try the case again.
In a 41-page opinion (available with this story online at theparisnews.com), the Appellate Court found the evidence against Morrison presented by the prosecution was circumstantial and that Morrison’s Sixth Amendment rights had been violated.
“... 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 states, because her defense attorney submitted highly detailed billing records “and disclosed confidential attorney work product and attorney-client communications” the state reviewed before trial. The opinion states prosecutors used that information to pursue “a line of questioning of Morrison’s mother, Misty, suggesting that Morrison admitted her involvement in the murder in a letter she wrote to Misty from jail.”
The Appellate Court remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial.
“We are disappointed with the ruling by the court of appeals,” Young said Wednesday morning. “The document that concerned them is a public record. While it can be debated whether defense counsel should have made it a public record, the fact is that he did. Every prosecutor’s office that I know always reviews the district clerk’s file prior to trial. We did exactly that and reviewed what any person in the county had the ability to do with public records.
“It is unfortunate for the Sims family that they have to continue to deal with this tragedy, but we will try Ms. Morrison again for her involvement in the crime.”
Morrison was 19 in July 2017 when she was handed a 30-year sentence in a Smith County court for the 2014 murder of North Lamar teacher Annie Lois Sims, who 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.
Judge Bill Harris declared a mistrial in Morrison’s first trial in April 2017 at the request of Young and Assistant District Attorney Jill Drake, who sought to have the trial moved. The prosecutors at the time believed Lamar County’s jury pool was too small and that potential jurors were not impartial.
In her July 2017 trial in Tyler, Morrison entered a plea of not guilty to first-degree murder. After deliberating for less than two hours, the jury found her guilty of Annie Sims’ murder.
The Appellate Court on Wednesday argued the evidence in that trial against Morrison was circumstantial. The opinion states: “Among the items of evidence admitted at trial, the State presented Morrison’s two recorded statements to Texas Ranger Stacey McNeal, text messages between Morrison and Sims before and after the murder, and surveillance footage from a Walmart in Oklahoma. The State also presented testimony from a witness with whom Morrison and Sims had hitched a ride the night they left Morrison’s home. There was no direct evidence that Morrison was involved in the murder. Rather, the State offered an interpretation of the evidence that it believed proved her involvement.”
Defense attorney David Turner on Wednesday declined to comment because prosecutors are planning to try the case again.
Morrison has been confined in the Hilltop Prison Unit in Gatesville. Until her conviction and sentence was overturned, she would not have been released until Dec. 23, 2044. She would have been eligible for parole Dec. 23, 2029.