Mike Sims, retired pharmacist and husband of Annie Lois Sims, who was brutally murdered outside their Powderly home a week before Christmas in 2014, again found himself on the witness stand Tuesday in the punishment trial of Ashley Morrison.
“I told her a couple days before that I was going to retire after Christmas, and we could go on some trips,” an emotional Sims said. “That made her happy.”
His grandson, Christian Vernon Sims, pleaded guilty to murder in October 2016 and received 35 years in prison. Morrison, a girlfriend, entered a guilty plea to her part in the murder in November 2019 after an appellate court reversed a July 2017 Smith County guilty verdict and 30-year prison sentence and ordered a new trial.
A five-woman, three-man Lamar County jury now is charged with determining a range of punishment for Morrison, not less than five years nor more than 30 years as agreed in an plea bargain offered in November by Lamar County District Attorney Gary Young.
During testimony Tuesday afternoon, the husband and grandfather described how his wife’s death affected not only himself but others as well — family members, her friends, the many students she taught throughout the years.
“Sometimes prisons are buildings with bars,” Mike Sims said. “But you can be in a prison that doesn’t have bars. The heart is all locked up and hurts and is destroyed. We have scars that will never go away.”
Lamar County assistant district attorneys Jill Drake and Benjamin Kaminar spent most of the day bringing the jury up to date on the events surrounding the Dec. 18, 2014, murder while they attempted to establish that Morrision had plenty of opportunities to distance herself from her boyfriend.
Texas Ranger Stacy McNeal described the investigation, events leading to the murder and the teens’ attempted escape in the grandmother’s car as told him by Sims, Morrison and others.
The two, both students at North Lamar High School, had been living together at the Morrison home after Sims, a couple months before, moved out of his grandparent’s home where he had lived since he was 8 years old, according to testimony.
The night before the murder, the couple left the Morrison home after an argument with the parents and spent the night walking from Paris along FM 195 toward the Sims’ home off FM 2648 near Powderly. At one point in the early morning hours of Dec. 18, the two received a 10-mile ride to Novice from a man after knocking on his door. From there, the two continued to the Sims’ house and to an aunt’s home nearby, according to McNeal’s testimony.
During interviews, the accounts of the murder and of Morrison’s involvement differ, McNeal testified.
The state called on several witnesses who described the couple’s flee to Oklahoma in the grandmother’s car as they used credit cards from her purse to shop in McAlister. Based off cellphone pings, local law enforcement traced the duo’s location in the Tulsa area where Oklahoma law enforcement made a late-night arrest at a Motel 6 in the Tulsa suburb of Sapulpa.
During opening statements, Drake told jurors the state would prove the teens planned to leave home in advance, and that Morrison was a willing partner in the events that happened, including murder.
“Listen to the state’s evidence,” Drake said. “You will not hear she was afraid, or being held against her will, nor that she warned her family about Sims. We don’t know that she was the shooter; but we do know we would like an appropriate sentence of 30 years.”
Defense attorney Heath Hyde of Sulphur Springs argued, “Chris (Sims) is a manipulator, a cold blooded murderer and he controlled Ashley Morrison. I want you to look at all these things and what her role was that terrible morning. We are going to ask you for a five-year sentence.”
The case before 62nd District Judge Will Biard is expected to conclude today.