Defense questions eyewitness in 2014 Lookout Valley triple homicide trial

Defense questions eyewitness in 2014 Lookout Valley triple homicide trial

September 21st, 2017 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Judge Barry A. Steelman talks to prospective jurors for the Lookout Valley trial involving defendant Derek Morse on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

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It was about 7 p.m. on April 9, 2014, and Molly Morris was running flat-out toward Kellys Ferry Road, toward the gunshots that woke her.

She needed to know that her brother, Jon Morris, who'd been hanging out with three friends that night, was all right. But first, she cut toward a scream: Matthew Callan, a 16-year-old boy whose family lived near the Morrises' trailer in the Lookout Valley trailer park.

Callan was bleeding on the front porch of his parents' trailer, shot five times in the neck, collarbone, leg and back, and his father was calling 911 for an ambulance. Callan said he didn't know who ambushed him and his friends, Caleb Boozer, John Lang and Jon Morris, while they were hanging out, drinking and listening to music

Only Callan survived the spray of bullets allegedly fired by Derek Morse and Skyler Allen.

What Molly Morris said to Callan's father was the subject of much debate Wednesday in the trial of Morse, who faces three counts of first-degree murder.

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Morris said two people showed up at Lang's RV lot and opened fire with rifles and pistols, and Derek Morse was one of them. Callan's father repeated her information to a 911 operator, and law enforcement hours later arrested Morse in a car with shell casings that matched the caliber of those found at the crime scene.

But Morse's defense attorney, Dan Ripper, says Morris didn't witness the shooting. Ripper argued she influenced Callan to positively identify Morse, to his client's detriment.

"So let's figure this out," Ripper said with Callan on the witness stand. "Molly comes down and says, 'It was Derek.' Then your father starts in, and your mother starts in. This is all before there's any police or ambulance on the scene, and you've already got three people telling you it was Derek. Three people who weren't there."

Prosecutors called Callan, Morris and some Hamilton County Sheriff's Office deputies on Wednesday, the second day of Morse's trial. They believe the triple homicide is connected to a violent event that happened in a Food Lion parking lot days before, court records show.

Brandon Jackson, who is married to Molly Morris, previously testified that he, Jon Morris and a third friend confronted Morse in the grocery store parking lot on April 4, 2014, about some money he owed them. Jackson smashed Morse's car with a tire iron, and Morse opened fire as they drove away.

Five days later, prosecutors say, Morse returned with his friend Allen to the RV lot where Morris was hanging out and opened fire on the group. A third acquaintance, Jacob Allison, then 15, drove them to and from the crime scene, prosecutors say.

Allen and Allison also face three counts of first-degree murder, and Allison is on the state's witness list and could testify against Morse.

They're also expected to call Jackson, whom authorities brought from a Georgia prison for this trial.

The Times Free Press previously reported Jackson said he saw two men emerge from a black car with weapons and approach Boozer, Callan, Lang and Morris at Lang's motor home.

Either way, Ripper said, the state has identification problems.

First, he pointed to the 911 call where Callan said he didn't know who shot him. Then to the interview at the hospital where Callan said, "Police said it was Derek," Ripper said.

Callan said he made a mistake in saying that. He'd gone about seven hours without pain medication and was healing from five gunshot wounds. But Ripper questioned a follow- up interview where a deputy asked who the shooter was.

"Your response was, 'That's the one that they said was Derek. I don't know if it was Derek, I wasn't really paying attention,'" Ripper said.

Callan pointed out that he positively identified Morse because of the photo lineup: "It was the picture. I was back in the moment, reliving the whole thing," he said. "It was like 100 percent recall."

The trial continues today at 8:30 a.m. in Hamilton County Criminal Court before Judge Barry Steelman.

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

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