A jury took less than an hour and a half to convict Charles Timothy Morris of the murder of his 3-year-old daughter, Alayna Adair.
Alayna died July 2, 2011, of blunt force trauma to the head, an injury her father claimed happened when the girl slipped in the bathtub.
The seven-man, five-woman jury deliberated for about 80 minutes Friday in deciding the fate of the 24-year-old Iraq War veteran. Morris maintained his innocence throughout the trial, and he showed no emotion as the verdict was read.
It wasn’t until after the jury left to debate Morris’ recommended sentence that he dropped his head and began to cry.
One of Morris’ defense attorneys, Chris Woodall, gave an impassioned speech for leniency — 20 years — and asked the jurors to consider the effects the sentence would have on Morris’ two other children.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Lynn Pryor, however, wanted the maximum — life in prison.
“Nobody from Alayna’s family was here to support her,” Pryor said with a photo of the girl facing the jury. “That is now left up to me. She will never attend her first day of school, her prom, a wedding day, have children and grandchildren. I don’t often ask for a life sentence. In this case, I am.”
The jury came back in less than 20 minutes and recommended 30 years.
The morning proceedings began with the final two witnesses for the defense, Vivian Campbell, a friend of Charles Morris, and Nicole Forbes, Morris’ second wife and the mother of his son.
Campbell bellowed her praise of Morris as a father. She claimed she knew both Morris and Morris’ former roommates, Chris and Jennifer Lambert, with great intimacy as they had “sat at my dinner table with the rest of my extended family.”
She laid the blame of Alayna’s death decisively on Jennifer Lambert while testifying that Chris Lambert would merely yell at the children in the house while he was playing video games.
Campbell’s testimony was so verbose that, during several junctures of questioning by Pryor, she didn’t allow Pryor to finish the question before beginning her answer. Christian Circuit Judge Andrew Self advised her twice that she should wait until Pryor finished.
Pryor questioned Campbell about her relationship to Mike Wheeler, a friend of Campbell’s son who was convicted of homicide. Pryor inferred during her inquiry that Campbell supported Wheeler during his trial and that she was doing the same for Morris.
Despite Campbell’s testimony about Morris’ character, she had to admit to the jury that she had never been to his apartment and therefore could not know of the injuries that Alayna suffered before she died.
Forbes testified that she had a “rocky relationship” with Morris, and eventually divorced him while he was deployed in Iraq.
She insisted the reason that she didn’t allow their son to visit Morris after their break-up was she “didn’t trust the people that Charles hung out with.”
Her story mimicked other defense witnesses who said Morris was a “great father” and that it was the Lamberts who were the villains.
In an effort to undermine Forbes’ testimony, Pryor asked her, “Do you receive any child-support from (Morris)?”
“No,” Forbes volunteered. “But whenever I need some money for (our son), I can ask and Charles will give it to me”
“So if Charles Morris goes to prison, you get no money, is that correct?” Pryor replied before saying she had no further questions.
Lead defense attorney Brandi McEldowney led her closing statement with a summary of the case, and she replayed the video of random photos showing Charles Morris with his daughter that she used in her opening arguments.
“This is Charles Morris as a father,” McEldowney said.
She reiterated her claims that the Lamberts, especially Jennifer, were responsible for Alayna’s injuries and that Jennifer Lambert had thrown suspicion on Morris in a “fit of jealous rage” because he rejected her romantic overtures.
McEldowney attacked the testimony of Brittany Morris because her “long thoughtful pauses” might suggest that she was lying about the events leading up to Alayna’s death.
McEldowney concluded her defense of Morris with a succinct, “It never happened.”
Pryor countered in her closing statement by saying, “The defense has given nothing but smoke and mirrors to make everyone else look bad but Charles Morris. Not just his former friends who testified but a police officer, a paramedic, doctors are all mistaken.”
Pryor said there were only two people in the room the day Alayna died.
“(Alayna) can’t tell and he won’t,” Pryor continued as she pointed to Morris.
Pryor assaulted McEldowney’s contention that Brittany Morris was an unreliable witness by pointing out that only two people shed any tears during the trial.
“Brittany Morris came here, still afraid of Charles Morris, and cried for Alayna Adair,” Pryor said. “Nikki Forbes cried because of her personal relationship with Charles Morris, which carries with it financial gain.”
In the end, Pryor looked to the mountain of evidence against the defendant and asked the jury to consider, “Is it reasonable that ALL these people lied?”
She also attacked Morris’ credibility by listing all his inconsistencies, excuses and rationalizations for the injuries he inflicted on his daughter, eventually leading to her death.
Pryor questioned Morris’ statements of hitting Alayna with a “closed fist for not eating her cereal” or leaving a “3-year-old child with a full-arm cast alone taking a shower” with a rhetorical, “Is that reasonable?”
The prosecutor bulldogged a statement Morris made to witnesses that he was angry about “wasting $50 in gas money” to get to Nashville, only to have his daughter die.
Pryor spent more than 40 minutes detailing every aspect of the state’s case against Morris from witness statements, to forensic evidence to Morris’ own testimony.
She concluded, “By his own admission, Charles Morris was the sole custodian of his daughter for the two weeks prior to her death. Charles Morris murdered his daughter.”
REACH STEVE BREEN at 270-887-3240