Jurors hear opening arguments in first 2014 Lookout Valley triple homicide trial

Jurors hear opening arguments in first 2014 Lookout Valley triple homicide trial

September 20th, 2017 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Defendant Derek Morse looks back as Judge Steelman introduces his bailiff to prospective jurors for the 2014 Lookout Valley triple homicide trial Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

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"Make sure they're all dead," the prosecutor said in his opening statement Tuesday.

"That's what Derek Morse told his friend, Skyler Allen, on April 9, 2014, on Kellys Ferry Road," Cameron Williams told jurors Tuesday in Hamilton County Criminal Court. "On that evening, he told his buddy to make sure John Lang, Jon Morris, Caleb Boozer and Matthew Callan were all dead."

Walking near the defense table, the prosecutor paused. "And that's what they did."

Using a combination of eyewitnesses and forensic evidence, prosecutors hope to convince jurors that Morse, one of three men charged in the crime, is guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder. During opening statements, Williams said Morse, Allen and Jacob Allison drove up to an RV lot, then Morse got out of a black car with a .22-caliber rifle and opened fire as the four men tried to flee into the surrounding woods. Afterward, prosecutors said, the trio traveled in the black car to Trenton, Ga., a Subway, and a hotel.

Only Callan, who will testify later this week, survived the attack.

"John Lang didn't have a chance," Williams said, referencing a picture of a man slumped over. "He died there in the chair."

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 5/28/14. Derek Morse, 19, middle and Skylar Allen, 22, right, sit in Judge Christie Mahn Sell's courtroom while having their case bound over to the grand jury both being charged in the April 9 triple murder in Lookout Valley.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Williams called to the witness stand on Tuesday a medical examiner and a sheriff's office deputy who photographs unusual crime scenes. Prosecutors are expected to call a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent who will testify that shell casings found at the crime scene matched shell casings found on Morse's car. And though he didn't mention it in opening statements, Williams filed a motion last week explaining a motive: Days before the shooting, Morse chased Morris and two other men in a car, firing shots at them in a Food Lion parking lot in Lookout Valley.

Not so fast, said Dan Ripper, Morse's defense attorney. He encouraged jurors to pay close attention to how authorities determined Morse was a shooter.

"The first person is Matthew Callan," Ripper said. "He gets shot, makes it to his parents' house. His dad calls 911. The 911 operator in a recording says, 'Does [Callan] know who shot him?' And Matthew Callan says no. Why is that curious? At least on one level because, in 2012, Callan and Mr. Morse spent a considerable amount of time together."

Meanwhile, Ripper said, near the crime scene, a woman named Molly Morris told police that Morse and another man who was never charged were involved in the shooting. Then, at the hospital, police interviewed Callan.

"He's asked by the officer who it was," Ripper said.

Callan's reply?

According to Ripper, "the police said it was Derek."

The trial continues today in Judge Barry Steelman's Hamilton County Criminal Court at 9 a.m.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

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Correction: The Times Free Press referred to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, a state lab, as the Tennessee Bureau of Information. We apologize for the confusion.


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