Capital Murder Defendant’s Plight Draws Attention in Germany
DALLAS (AP) _ In Germany, Ricky Morrow’s plight is the stuff of passionate demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns.
But in Dallas, where he is awaiting the start Thursday of his third murder trial for a killing he admits to committing, most people don’t even know his name.
Morrow is being tried on capital murder charges in the January 1982 death of a security guard. He says the shooting occurred accidentally while he was trying to rob First Texas Savings and Loan.
″I’m not innocent of a crime. I’m innocent of capital murder,″ he says from his jail cell in Dallas. Under Texas law, a killing during the commission of a felony can bring the death penalty.
″We are trying to do everything on our side to save Ricky,″ says Eva Marie Kaifenheim of Munich, Germany, who has orchestrated a letter-writing campaign that has resulted in more than 200 notes to members of the U.S. news media, officials and diplomats. The letters accuse prosecutors of acting improperly in Morrow’s case.
Ms. Kaifenheim said she learned of the case through the human rights organization Amnesty International, which employs her sister and other family members.
Last year, more than 500 demonstrators marched through the Bavarian capital bearing placards saying, ″Life for Ricky Morrow,″ Ms. Kaifenheim said.
″There are a lot of people here in Munich aware of what is going on in Dallas,″ she said.
Morrow’s initial November 1983 capital murder conviction in the death of Mark Frazier was overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in March 1988 because of an improper question posed to prospective jurors. A second trial ended in a mistrial in July 1989.
″It was a complete accident, something I never intended to happen,″ Morrow said of the shooting. ″I was drunk, I was on psychiatric medication, I had just been released from a hospital seven days before.
″In my own mind, I do not think that it would be any more wrong for me to die than it was for him. ... He should be living today and would be living today had I not gone out and got drunk and decided to rob a bank. But I did and it happened.″
But he questions the zeal with which he is being prosecuted, noting that Dallas County prosecutors have never lost a capital case since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1976.
″There’s a reason they have never lost one,″ Morrow said. ″They will do anything.
″They’re spending millions and millions of dollars just to get a notch on their belt. That’s what capital cases in Dallas County are all about.″
Chief Assistant District Attorney Norman Kinne confirms that his office has won all 49 capital murder cases tried since 1976.
Morrow, 39, of Houston, and Ms. Kaifenheim contend the district attorney’s office has resorted to perjured testimony, intimidation of potential witnesses and other unethical acts to ensure the death penalty.
Ms. Kaifenheim rattles off the names of wrongfully convicted inmates Randall Dale Adams and Lenell Geter, who were freed by the courts amid allegations of misconduct by Dallas County prosecutors.
Morrow said prosecutors refused a plea bargain that would have kept him behind bars, without possibility for parole, until the age of 70.
Assistant District Attorney Dan Hagood, who is prosecuting Morrow, declined to respond to the allegations.
″I can’t talk about a pending case. Ethically, you are not supposed to,″ he said. But he confirmed his office has received letters from the Germans.
Morrow’s attorney, Keith Jagmin, also declined to discuss the trial, which started in July with jury selection.
Ms. Kaifenheim said she obtained the name of Morrow, who then was on Texas’ death row, and that of another death row inmate in 1987 from her sister, Antonie, who works with Amnesty International.
The human rights organization unconditionally opposes the death penalty, said Alli Miller, Amnesty International USA’s director of programs against the death penalty.
Amnesty members in one country are asked to ″adopt″ another country. In this instance, Germany has ″adopted″ the United States and protests U.S. death penalty cases, Ms. Miller said.
But the action undertaken by Ms. Kaifenheim was at her own behest, not the group’s, she said. Amnesty International does not become involved with capital cases until the defendant has been sentenced.
After obtaining Morrow’s name and address, Ms. Kaifenheim sent him a letter and a fruitcake for Christmas in 1987.
″Ricky wrote me saying he was very happy for the cake, but even happier by the letter,″ she said in a telephone interview from Munich conducted in German.
″She had also sent some other inmate the same thing and he never responded. I did respond because it was something you don’t get in prison and I was moved by it,″ Morrow said.
That initial contact sparked a correspondence that has intensified over the years. Ms. Kaifenheim said that during a bleak period a year or so ago when Morrow tried to take his own life, she wrote him daily to boost his spirits.
She plans on coming to Dallas when the trial begins.
″I will be in court each day,″ she said.
Morrow said Ms. Kaifenheim’s concern renewed his interest in fighting for what he calls a fair trial.
″Her primary concern is the same as mine, that I get a fair trial, and that’s all I’m asking for,″ he said.