AP NEWS

Oxford arson suspect to stay behind bars, for now

January 26, 2019

MILFORD — A judge denied a request from a New York woman awaiting sentencing on an arson charge to release her from custody as she fights for her parental rights.

The woman, 27-year-old Speciale Rose Morris, is one of four people charged with conspiring to burn down a home on Route 67 in Oxford July 29, 2016.

Morris pleaded guilty last March to conspiracy to commit second-degree arson and has agreed to testify if any of her co-defendants’ cases go to trial. She has been held on $350,000 bond in the case since her arrest in August 2017.

Morris became pregnant before her arrest and gave birth to a son who is now 1 year old and being cared for by a foster family. She sees the boy once a month during visits supervised by the Department of Children and Families.

In court Friday, Public Defender Susan Brown asked Judge Peter Brown to release her on a promise to appear in court so she can attend a March hearing at which she said DCF is seeking to terminate Morris’ parental rights.

“Her lawyer in that case does believe her parental rights would probably be maintained if she was not incarcerated,” Public Defender Susan Brown said.

She said her family will help her rent an apartment in Connecticut while her case is pending.

“She is not going anywhere,” Brown said.

Brown noted a probation official who prepared a sentencing report in the case recommended Morris, who has no prior record, receive probation. The lawyer also said her client called police less than six hours after the fire and repeatedly met with police voluntarily to give them information during the investigation.

“Ms. Morris has not been fighting this,” she said. “Ms. Morris has been doing everything to provide explanation and assistance since day one.”

The prosecutor in the case, Howard Stein, didn’t object to Morris’ request, but didn’t support it either, since doing so could be viewed as compensation for her testimony against her co-defendants.

The judge said he read the arrest warrants in the case and noted the differing “degrees of culpability” contained in the statements each of the co-defendants gave to police.

“I am very much concerned about the allegations concerning Ms. Morris’ participation in the conspiracy,” Brown said. “At this time I’m going to deny the motion for bond reduction.”

After issuing the ruling, the judge said a continuance to late February — before Morris’ parental rights trial — would be appropriate. She is scheduled to return to court Feb. 22.

According to an arrest warrant, the owner of the home, Delores Lee, wanted to burn the house down because a tenant owed her back rent.

After the tenant allegedly told a marshal serving an eviction notice that she didn’t plan on leaving, the marshal told police Lee said “No one ever pays me. Maybe I’ll burn it down.”

The warrant says Morris drove two other suspects in the case — Martina Brandy Jackson and Leon “Pops” Carson — from New York to the home on the night of the fire.

Morris implicated Jackson with setting the fire, but Jackson blamed Carson, telling police Lee had offered $800 in exchange for setting the blaze.

Lee is awaiting trial in the case. Carson and Jackson are due back in court Feb. 14 and March 14, respectively.

ethan.fry@hearstmediact.com