Jurors deny parole for Derek Morse

Jurors deny parole for Derek Morse

September 27th, 2017 by Zack Peterson in Breaking News

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.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

This is a developing story.

UPDATE: Jurors said Morse should not receive an opportunity for parole, ruling the state proved the triple homicide was heinous and constituted mass murder.


ORIGINAL STORY: After convicting him of first-degree murder earlier today, jurors are now deciding whether to give Derek Morse a chance at parole.

They must decide two factors: Was the 2014 Lookout Valley triple homicide especially heinous, and was it mass murder?

Yes, prosecutors say, on both accounts.

"Think back to the testimony," Executive Assistant District Attorney Lance Pope said. "Jon Morris is shot eight times. John Lang is shot 5 times. Caleb Boozer is shot 15 times. They're all shot in the head."

That qualified as heinous, Pope said. And the second qualification was easy: Mass murder is when three or more people die.

Pope and his colleague, Cameron Williams, argued Morse should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. A defendant is eligible for parole in Tennessee after serving 51 years behind bars.

For proof, they called family members to explain the emotional impact of the April 9, 2014, triple homicide.

Deb Boozer lost her only son and can't celebrate Christmas or Mother's Day like she used to. Molly Morris has to explain to her child that Uncle Jon is in heaven. Jacob Lang had to overcome a three-year rage when he lost his father, a free spirit who preferred hiking and adventure over mortgages.

Defense attorney Dan Ripper said he wasn't trying to justify his client's actions.

But Morse had a story, too.

A month after he was born, Morse's father bolted and never had face-to-face interactions with his son. That left his mother, a severe alcoholic who verbally abused him.

She remarried another alcoholic years later, giving Morse little to no structure. Some mornings, he ate out of a cereal box with cockroaches inside, his uncle, Derek Weil Morse, said.

Morse often left home, looking for a safer place. He tried to enlist in the military at the age of 17, but that fell through. He was 19 years old when he opened fire on Boozer, Lang, Morris and Matthew Callan as they sat outside a trailer on Kellys Ferry Road.

Many people come from adversity and go on to do great things in society, prosecutors countered.

But few people have the capacity to behave like Morse, Pope said. And those people don't deserve a chance at parole.

"I agree," Ripper said in his final approach to jurors. "People come from those circumstances and do great things. But there are many, many, many people who don't overcome them."

People don't get to pick their parents or the circumstances they're thrust into, Ripper said. And Morse wasn't given many chances.

Could the jury give him this one?

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

Stay with the Times Free Press as more information becomes available.