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Morrison takes stand as murder trial continues

Sep 30, 2016 - By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

Testimony Friday included an hour-long cross-examination by prosecutor Patrick LeBrun.

"Are you nervous?" defense attorney John LaBuda asked his client Friday morning.

"Sure," James Morrison said with a nervous smile to indicate that answer should have been obvious.

"Me too," LaBuda said.

Morrison was about to face more than two hours of questioning on the fifth day of his second-degree murder trial.

After dismissing the jury for the day, Judge Norman Young warned the defendant Thursday that he should not feel any obligation to take the stand, and that testifying comes with inherent risks.

Yet the 70-year-old testified willingly, trying to convince the jury that he had acted in self-defense when he fatally shot his 64-year-old neighbor, Paul Good, in the middle of a Union Pass road.

"I had no choice," Morrison said. "He told me he was going to kill me."

Cross examination

And for the first time, during more than an hour of cross-examination, county attorney Patrick LeBrun was able to poke some holes in the self-defense story Morrison and his defense attorneys offered.Young had to overrule defense attorneys' objections to LeBrun's lengthy and persistent questioning.

Morrison said April 7 began inauspiciously. He woke up and planted radishes in his garden, and then was taking out the mail on his four-wheeler when he passed Good slowly -- maybe 5 mph -- before stopping when Good began cursing at him.

After he stopped, Morrison said Good drew his gun and promised to kill him.

At that point, Morrison said he took off his left mitten, drew his own gun from his saddlebag and shot Good from behind his four-wheeler.

How far away?

However, physical evidence on the scene indicated Morrison was driving fast enough to leave an 11-foot skid mark while activating brakes on all four tires.

Physical evidence also indicates Morrison must have walked from his four-wheeler, approaching Good, if he were to have shot him from a foot away as a ballistics expert had testified.

After killing Good, Morrison finished taking his mail to the mailbox, and then went about his day "in a fog" from the shock.

"I tried to plow the road," he said. " But I just remember I didn't do a very good job. I guess I couldn't get into it."

After Morrison previously testified that he didn't know that Good was killed until noon on April 7, he later conceded under cross-examination that he could have known as early as 10 a.m.,when he was first questioned by police.

Amnesia claim

Morrison told police that day he had no involvement with the shooting, and now believes the trauma from the event blocked the memory out.

"When I talked to the sheriff's office later that day, I didn't think I had done anything," Morrison said.

He became choked up as he testified that it wasn't until the next day that the memories came flooding back and he went to his wife to tell her "I need some help."

LeBrun had argued that Morrison's selective memory of events later that day, despite now remembering explicitly killing Good, means it's unlikely Morrison is suffering from peritraumatic amnesia, as the defense team claims.

Trent Holmberg, a forensic psychologist and adjunct professor at the University of Utah, said Morrison's breed of amnesia is unusual.

"The most common thing that's blocked out is going to be the most upsetting thing that happened," Holmberg said.

'Pretty good actor'

However, he did testify that, based on his study of Morrison's behavior, the defendant did, indeed, suffer from the type of shock that would lead to the type of amnesia he's claiming to experience.

Holmberg said that type of disassociation can happen in traumatized people when extreme amounts of stress hormones are released.

"This causes a whole cascade of things within the body that can cause someone to feel funny," he said.

Holmberg said it's possible to fake shock, but very difficult and rare.

"If you don't know what the genuine thing looks like, it's pretty hard to fake," he said.

"And you'd have to be a pretty good actor."
 

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