OKEECHOBEE — Matthew Morris is no longer an accused murderer.
A 12-person jury, consisting of seven women and five men, Wednesday afternoon found him guilty in the 2007 shooting death of John Melvin Hall.
Morris, 43, was convicted of first-degree murder, burglary, two counts of robbery, grand theft-auto and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
As a result of the jury’s findings, Circuit Court Judge Gary Sweet sentenced the West Virginia native to four life sentences. Morris was then sentenced to a five-year term on the grand theft charge and 15 years on the firearm possession conviction.
Judge Sweet also ruled that Morris must serve a minimum-mandatory sentence of 25 years on the murder, burglary and robbery charges. He must also serve a minimum-mandatory term of three years on the firearm possession conviction.
The judge also ruled that all sentences are to run consecutively.
Assistant state attorney Ashley Albright said Morris had four prior felony convictions. However, the jury was only told about his 1992 bank robbery conviction in North Carolina. Morris served 57 months in federal prison on that conviction.
Morris voiced an objection to being sentenced Dec. 9 because of a habeous corpus filing he had made earlier. That filing, he said, prevented him from being sentenced at this time.
However, Judge Sweet chose to go ahead with sentencing.
“I’m vaguely aware of the filing. If we have to do it over, we’ll do it over,” he said.
In his closing statement to the jury, Mr. Albright said for the panel to get to SODDI they would have to find: Hall’s wife, Dorothy, lied about what happened that November night; Hall’s sister, Nellie, who was also in the house, would have also had to lie; the rifle found in a guitar box next to where Morris was sleeping when he was arrested would have had to be planted; and, the tire tracks that matched the Ford Explorer driven by Morris to the Hall home would also have had to be planted.
By the way, continued the prosecutor, “SODDI is an acronym used by prosecutors that means Some Other Dude Did It.”
Morris, along with two black males, broke into Hall’s home on U.S. 441 S.E. on Nov. 15, 2007. Morris was armed with an SKS 7.62 by 39 caliber semi-automatic rifle, while the black males were apparently armed with handguns.
Morris broke into the Halls’s bedroom where John pushed his wife off the bed then was shot in both legs. All the time Morris was demanding money he claimed was owed to him by Hall.
Witnesses testified earlier that Hall sold prescription pills and had sold some to Morris, who then resold them.
“After he (Morris) shot my husband he said (to one of his accomplices): “Kill them! Kill them all!” testified Mrs. Hall earlier in the week.
Once the men had left the home, Mrs. Hall called 9-1-1 and her husband was rushed to Raulerson Hospital where he later died while waiting to be airlifted to another hospital.
Morris was later found in an apartment located in the town of Wesley Chapel by agents from the U.S. Marshal’s Service who arrested him.
When asked, Mr. Albright said the two black men were never arrested — even though at the time of Morris’ arrest he was in an apartment with two black males.
Throughout the three-day trial Morris had sought to have his attorney, Thomas Garland, discharged but Judge Sweet refused to do so. Morris claimed the Port St. Lucie defense attorney was ineffective and was not mounting a proper defense.
As Mr. Albright was presenting his closing argument, the defendant broke in and yelled “objection!”
“He’s presenting false testimony!” shouted Morris.
Judge Sweet then had deputies from the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office remove Morris from the courtroom. He was taken to another courtroom where he could watch and listen to the proceedings on closed circuit television.
Morris was then allowed back in the courtroom to hear the jury’s verdict.
He will receive credit for the 1,890 days he has already spent in jail.
Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News