Nation - Oregon Wife agrees to testify in double slaying

COQUILLE, Ore. (AP) -- A woman who fled cross-country with her husband and child after a double murder outside Bandon has agreed to testify against her husband.

Jessica Morris has also pleaded guilty to a felony charge of hindering prosecution. In return for her cooperation, Coos County Circuit Court Judge Richard Barron agreed to release her from jail on Monday and sentenced her to three years probation. If she successfully completes the probation and doesn't leave the state, the charge will be reduced to a misdemeanor.

Her husband Gabriel Morris is charged with aggravated murder in the Feb. 8 shooting deaths of his mother, 62-year-old Robin Anstey, and 48-year-old Robert Kennelly Jr.

Gabriel and Jessica Morris were tracked down in Virginia on Feb. 22. Gabriel Morris is jailed in Manassas, Va., fighting extradition to Oregon.

Their 4-year-old daughter Kalea is living with grandparents Bill and Rita Pope in Blackfoot, Idaho. The Register-Guard said that barring an objection from state public health officials, Jessica Morris could regain custody of her daughter.

Coos County District Attorney Paul Frasier said that based on the evidence he has now, it appears Jessica Morris was asleep with her daughter when Anstey and Kennelly were killed. She could face new charges if information arises showing she was involved in the killings, he added.

"She awoke to the sound of gunshots and the screaming of Kalea," Frasier said in court. Then Gabriel Morris reportedly came into the room, saying they needed to leave.

"She knew her husband had committed these murders," Frasier said. Asked earlier by prosecutors if she had been threatened by, or was afraid of Gabriel for herself or her daughter, Morris said that wasn't the issue. She indicated she was in love with her husband and wanted to keep the family together, Frasier said in court.

Morris' new agreement means she is waiving the marital privilege rights that she could have invoked to avoid testifying against her husband. Gabriel Morris can still keep his wife from testifying about conversations the two of them had in private, but Jessica Morris agreed to tell authorities about things she saw and heard.

Before Morris was sentenced, Coos County Public Defender Carole Hamilton described her as someone whose life has always revolved around her family and her church. Hamilton also presented four letters to the judge, a sampling of those received from supporters who were shocked to learn of the killings. Among the authors were a retired judge and an Idaho state prosecutor, who wrote of Morris' faith and pleasant disposition.

Published: Wed, Mar 24, 2010