Morris trial: Police questioned veracity of statements
On Thursday, July 9, the fourth day of the murder trial of Alvin Lee "Butch" Morris, the jury heard a round of audiotapes made in 2008 in which police accuse Morris of lying at multiple times–- and in which Morris claims he used to smoke Marlboros, contradicting testimony about his brand from both his current and former wife. And it's something key to the prosecution's case.
DNA experts testified that Morris' genetic code matched a Salem Light cigarette butt found at the scene of the crime, and that the probability of that DNA belonging to anyone else is 1 in 6.5 billion. The defense challenged the chain of custody on the butt.
On a May 15, 2008, tape made the day he was arrested for the murder, police asked why Morris gave varying stories about owning a gun, why he varied his story about his relationship with the dead man's widow, and flip-flopped on accusing another man of the crime.
"At a critical time of your life you lied during a murder investigation," said Albemarle police Detective Phil Giles. "Why lie to police?"
"I don't have a good answer," Morris says on tape.
Twenty-one years after Roger L. Shifflett was gunned down at his Southwind Grocery on Route 20, police and prosecutors are pressing the theory, in this multi-day trial in Albemarle Circuit Court, that Morris was the shooter.
"There's no question you lied on multiple occasions," says Giles in a February 14, 2008, interview tape in which he contends Morris falsely accusing Southwind employee Steve Stover of making a murder confession. Giles also scolds Morris, who has no previous criminal record, for denying his relationship with the widow, Barbara Shifflett, whom he married a year after the murder, and for changing his story about owning a .22 caliber gun, the type of weapon used to kill Roger Shifflett.
"DNA is my only hope," says Morris in the interview, as police took a DNA sample from him. "Everybody thinks I was guilty of it."
Morris denied being at the Southwind on June 20, 1988, the day Shifflett was killed. "I couldn't and did not pull the trigger on any human being," he said, repeatedly denying being the killer.
In the 2008 tapes, Morris frequently speaks of his past alcoholism and the trouble it caused his first wife and sons from that union, and the guilt from leaving his marriage.
"My boys are better off without me," says the videotaped Morris, while expressing pride in raising the three sons of Roger Shifflett after he married their widowed mother.
And despite Giles accusing him of lying multiple times and shooting Shifflett, Morris responded at least three times, with the phrase, "In all honesty..."
"I'll be honest with you," he said. "I'll be honest with you that I did not pull the trigger."
Defense attorney Dana Slater questioned Giles' interview tactics, which included threats that Barbara Shifflett Morris would go to jail and telling Morris bullets found at the scene would be checked for his DNA.
"That was a ruse," answered Giles.
The Commonwealth rested around 8:30pm, and the defense called two witnesses who saw a car parked at the Southwind Grocery shortly before 6am the morning Shifflett was killed, but put the location of the car at two different spots in the parking lot.
The defense is expected to continue to question the reliability of decades-old physical evidence, police storage techniques, and point out that as Morris was a regular visitor to the now demolished store, there's nothing nefarious about his cigarette being there.