Man accused of murder to testify today

OKEECHOBEE — Accused murderer Matthew Morris will take the witness stand this morning in his own defense, as his trial enters its third day.
Morris, 43, is accused of killing John Melvin Hall on Nov. 15, 2007, in his U.S. 441 S.E. home.

The state has charged Morris with one count of first-degree murder, two counts of robbery with an assault or battery and one count of grand theft-motor vehicle.

Matthew Morris

Matthew Morris

According to trial testimony, Hall was selling pain pills to Morris out of a rented apartment in Pompano Beach. Morris would then resell the pills.

Morris claimed Hall owed him money and allegedly broke into the Hall’s home early that November morning to collect. He was supposedly accompanied by two black men.

Hall’s wife, Dorothy, testified Monday morning that she and her husband were asleep in their bedroom when they heard a noise and then saw a man break into their bedroom.

“My husband pushed me out of the bed and then he got shot,” she told assistant state attorney Ashley Albright.

The man standing in the doorway of the couple’s room was dressed in black and armed with “a long gun.”

That “long gun” turned out to be an SKS 7.62 by 39 caliber semi-automatic weapon, said assistant state attorney Bernard Romero in his opening statement to the 12-person jury. That gun was later found in a Wesley Chapel home where Morris was staying. He was taken into custody there.

Mrs. Hall said the armed man demanded money, so she gave him her purse which contained $20 and he took it.

“After he shot my husband he said (to one of his accomplices): ‘Kill them! Kill them all!’” said Mrs. Hall.

She said the black man was also armed but “he just stood there, with a gun in his hand.”

The three men left the home and stole a Jeep Commander belonging to Hall’s sister, Nellie Albright, who was also staying in the home.

After the men had gone, Mrs. Hall called 9-1-1 and her husband was taken to Raulerson Hospital where he died from the gunshot wound before he could to be airlifted to a trauma center.

During the second day of testimony, after the state had rested its case, Morris told Circuit Court Judge Gary Sweet he wanted to discharge his counsel, Port St. Lucie defense attorney Thomas Garland.

Morris was claiming ineffective counsel, which is not the first time he’s done this. In fact, Mr. Garland is the fourth defense attorney to represent Morris.

“I see myself as another defendant in prison that’s been wrongfully convicted,” he told the judge. “I feel the jury is confused between things that have not been brought up on cross examination. I look like I’m being dishonest, when I’m being honest.”

He went on to claim items had not been entered into evidence that should have been and that witnesses were not cross examined fully by Mr. Garland.

But, Judge Sweet did not give in to the defendant’s arguments.

“The motion to discharge counsel is denied,” ruled the judge.
Before the judge’s ruling, Mr. Garland said he had prepared as best he could for the trial and that he had cross examined witnesses thoroughly.

“It’s very hard to sit here with my client second-guessing everything I do,” he told the judge. “I’m at the point I don’t know what my client wants.”
It should be noted Morris did not retain Mr. Garland but, instead, the defense attorney was appointed to the case.

Even though Morris thought otherwise, Mr. Garland conducted a vigorous cross examination of Mrs. Hall during her time on the stand. Several times pointed he out that she failed to identify the man who shot her husband even though she knew him.

He brought up the fact she initially told Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office detectives the shooter was wearing a ski mask.

“Then, about four days later, you told deputies it was a white male and he was not wearing a mask,” said Mr. Garland.

Mrs. Hall responded that fear caused her to act the way she did.

“I was afraid I was going to be killed,” she told the jury.

On his re-direct, Mr. Albright asked Mrs. Hall one very pointed question — what was the last thing her husband told her before he died?

She drew in a breath and answered: “Don’t tell them (law enforcement) anything. They’ll (Morris) kill you.”

The third day of testimony will get under way in Courtroom B of the Okeechobee County Judicial Complex at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9.

Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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