CORRECTION: Morrison's guilty plea was taken by Judge Will Biard. The story is corrected.
Ashley Morrison, who received a new trial for her part in the 2014 murder of retired North Lamar teacher Annie Lois Sims, pleaded guilty Tuesday before Judge Will Biard in exchange for a prison sentence not to exceed 30 years.
A Lamar County jury will assess a sentence during a punishment trial sometime after the first of the year, according to Lamar County District Attorney Gary Young.
“After consulting with the victim’s family, we all agreed this was the best way to handle this case,” Young said. “Mrs. Morrison has admitted to her guilt, and now a jury of her peers will decide how many years in prison she will now serve.”
Morrison, now 22, was 19 in July 2017 when she was handed a 30-year sentence in a Smith County court for her suspected role in Sims’ death. 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, 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, 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.
Managing editor Klark Byrd contributed to this report.