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06/18/2019

Shirley, Hannah guilty of felony murder

25th judicial circuit court


Shirley, Hannah guilty of felony murder

  • • Beaty’s day in court expected this September
IMG_2990.jpg Morgan Shirley (left) 53, Winfield was found guilty of felony murder and first-degree robbery for his participation in the death and robbery of Fayette resident William Jerome Henry, 48, on April 30, 2016.  Also shown are defense attorneys Brain White (background) and Jake Watson.

Article and photo contributed by The Journal Record

hannah.PNG

Mareya Hannah

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Morgan Shirley

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Candice Beaty

By Scott Johnson
News Editor

Hamilton - After only four hours of deliberation, a Marion County jury found Morgan Shirley, 53, guilty of murder in the April 2016 stabbing death of William Jerome Henry on Friday, June 7.


Henry, 48, Fayette, died after a drug-fueled fight involving Shirley,  and Winfield residents Mareya Hannah and Candice Beaty.


Hannah, 36, Shirley’s step-son-in-law, plead guilty to felony murder on Wednesday, May 29, in a plea agreement with the 25th Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s office.


Hannah testified against Shirley during the three-day trial that began on Tuesday, June 4, at the Marion County Courthouse in Hamilton, with 25th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Lee Carter presiding.


Hannah plead down from capital to felony murder and was given a 20-year split sentence. He will only serve five of those in an Alabama prison.


Hannah’s last three years in custody at the Marion County Jail in Hamilton will be credited toward those five years.


Beaty, 25, Hannah’s wife and Shirley’s step-daughter, remains the only suspect involved in Henry’s death who is awaiting trial.


Beaty remains in the county jail without bond where she has been held since her arrest in 2016.


25th Judicial Circuit District Attorney Scott Slatton said Beaty is  charged with capital murder and is expected to be tried in September.


Slatton said Henry’s family was previously consulted and they specifically asked that prosecutors not seek the death penalty for any of the suspects.


Should Beaty be found guilty of capital murder, Slatton said that she would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Commenting on Shirley’s guilty verdict, Slatton said, “We are happy with the results from the jury. We believe justice was properly served for Jerome Henry and for his family.


“I’d like to thank the jury, the court reporter, the judge and the district attorney staff for helping to bring everything together.”


Slatton also thanked the Winfield Police Department and police chief Brett Burleson for efficiently gathering evidence and making the presentation of the case easy.


The district attorney said digital forensics played a “pivotal” role in the case and being able to collaborate evidence.


The murder trial and the two murder convictions are the first for Slatton, who took office in 2017.


Meth-binge-turned-trap


Hannah was the first witness called to testify in the case.


According to Hannah, the events leading up  to the death of Henry began the day prior to the incident on April 29, 2016, when Henry sent a text to Hannah and Beaty at around 4 p.m., asking them if they had any meth. The couple shared a cell phone.


The couple resided at 137 Mill Street in Winfield. However, they had previously lived near Henry when they had lived in Fayette.


Henry arrived at Hannah’s residence around 6 p.m., Hannah said, and the three begin to smoke meth and marijuana.


Hannah said that the three of them were in and out of the house over the next 24 hours and stayed up all night partying.


The next morning at around 8, Henry planned to leave the house to go to Sulligent to buy more dope.


Hannah said Henry went out to his car in the driveway and sent a text to Hannah and Beaty, asking where his sunglasses were, if he had left them in the house or in Hannah’s car.


After going outside to search his car for Henry’s glasses, Hannah returned to find Beaty upset because Henry had been sending her suggestive text messages.


“My wife told me that he texted her while I was in the truck, trying to  get with her,” Hannah said.


Hannah said it offended him and that he was surprised because he had considered Henry a friend.


Hannah said he had no desire to confront Henry about the texts, but Beaty began to push him.


Henry testified to defense lawyers that he didn’t see himself as a fighter and that Henry was larger than he was.


Hannah told prosecutors Beaty was the one who created the plan.
“I wanted to let him go and not worry about,” Hannah said. “But she talked me into it—we were going to beat him up or whatever.”


Henry said the two then planned to ride with Henry to Sulligent to buy more illegal drugs and then assault and rob him once they returned to the house.


Beaty called Henry back to the house to pick her and Hannah up so they could all ride to Sulligent together.


Hannah said they spent about an hour in Sulligent before returning to Winfield.


Once back at 137 Mill Street, Hannah said he called his step-father-in-law, Shirley.


“I called Morgan down to just make sure that anything didn’t get out of hand about the fight,” Hannah said.


Hannah said that once Shirley arrived he told him about Henry’s text messages.


“We were going to get his dope and whoop his a**,” Hannah said.
The defense played video footage of a confession by Hannah with the Winfield Police Department at the Marion County Jail on May 3, 2016, following Hannah’s arrest.


The defense asked Hannah why he hadn’t mentioned more about planning the attack and robbery with Shirley during the May 3 interview.


In closing statements, the defense argued to the jury that Hannah “cooked up” Shirley’s knowledge of a plan over the last three years in custody. They argued that it was suspicious that Hannah would withhold  information until the possibility of plea deal was presented.


Three-on-one


Hannah testified that once Shirley was informed of the plan, then he, too, joined in with the three and began using the drugs with them.
Hannah said he got in the shower and then left the house for about 20 minutes pretending to go get a hair cut while Beaty began to lead Henry on.


Hannah said that he drove around Winfield until Beaty texted him from Shirley’s phone to come back.


Once at the house, Hannah said Beaty met him outside and instructed him to keep his car radio on and loud.


Hannah said they walked into the house together and began to fake an argument right in front of Henry, who was sitting on a love seat.
Hannah shoved his wife and then turned and hit Henry in the face, jumped on his back and attempted to get him in a choke hold.
Henry was able to reverse the hold, Hannah said, and the fight quickly turned in Henry’s favor.


According to Hannah, that is when Beaty and Shirley got involved.
Hannah said Shirley grabbed a four-foot aluminum bubble level that was in his house and hit Henry with it several times, breaking it in two parts.


Hannah said he was able to break free and then rushed Henry, who was now fighting Beaty and Shirley. He said that he and Henry both fell to the floor where he tried to grab his feet and pin him down. It was at this point Hannah said he realized he was having a panic attack and was struggling to breathe.


Hannah said that he could only watch the remainder of the fight between the three others. He said at one point Beaty punched Henry and both fell over into the living room TV.


It was at that point that Hannah said Beaty began to scream “knife.” Hannah said that he tried to get the knife out of someone’s hands and said that he cut one of his fingers trying.


Hannah said that he remembers the knife hitting the floor and Henry falling over near the living room love seat.


Pressured by the defense as to whose hand the knife was in, Hannah would only say, “Not sure.”


Hannah never said that he saw Henry get stabbed.


According to Hannah, Shirley grabbed the level and put it around Henry’s neck and pushed his knee into his back.


Hannah said he then heard Beaty demanding Henry’s keys, dope and money.


Hannah, who was still uncapable of moving at this point, said he told Shirley and Beaty to let Henry go.


Shirley let Henry go, Hannah said, and Henry walked out of the house and Shirley left behind him.


Hannah told Beaty to call 9-1-1 and he laid on the ground trying to catch his breath.


First responders arrived at the scene around 4 p.m., discovering Henry collapsed on the ground about 100 feet from Hannah’s residence.


Winfield Police Officer Gary Hamlett testified that he arrived on the scene to find Henry struggling to breathe and he attempted to give him CPR, but it was not affective.


Marion County Emergency Medical Services Operations Manager Grant Webb told prosecutors that he, too, arrived at the scene and took over providing medical care for Henry.


Webb said there was blood all around Henry on the ground and he used a cauterizing agent on a wound to Henry’s back to attempt to stop the bleeding.


The EMS manager said that Henry was dead before arriving at Northwest Medical Center in Winfield.


Investigation begins


Winfield Police Chief Brett Burleson said that when he arrived at the scene on April 30, Beaty and Hannah were still at the residence.


According to Burleson, Beaty told investigators initially that Henry had attempted to break into the home.


After searching the house, Burleson said he quickly realized there was more to the story.


Burleson interviewed Hannah later that day at the Winfield Police Station, where Hannah first mentioned that Shirley was involved.

Burleson said that Hannah was not truthful during that interview.


The police chief said that a followup interview with Hannah at the jail on May 3 led to a confession that helped investigators determine how Henry had actually died.


Marion County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Darryl Spencer testified that he responded to the 137 Mill Street residence the day of the incident to provide support to the WPD.


After learning of Shirley’s involvement in the attack, Spencer said that he went to search for him at a known residence on Court Road in Winfield.


After family members were interviewed at the residence, Spencer learned that Shirley may have been dropped off at property previously owned by his parents on Scufflegrit Road in Guin.


Spencer and sheriff deputy Dawn Dodd searched two abandoned trailers on the property without finding Shirley.


Spencer said that he noticed a shed off to the side of the property and told Dodd, “What would be the odds of that” if they found him there.


Pushing the door open, Spencer said that they found Shirley right inside the door laying on a couch.


Spencer said they recovered several items of illegal drugs, paraphernalia and various items of jewelry.


Prosecutors laid out all the items of jewelry found on Shirley at the time of his arrest on the witness stand.


Henry’s sister, Goldie Hollis, was called to the witness stand by prosecutors and picked out bracelets and a necklace that she had either given her brother or knew that he owned.


Alabaster Police Department Lt. Daniel Goodwin, who specializes in digital forensics, provided the court with phone data from Shirley’s and Hannah’s phones. Goodwin received the phones from WPD investigator Rusty Hulsey. He said phone data from Henry’s phone was unable to be recovered.


Hulsey testified to the court that the text message and phone data collaborated with the timeline and events testified by Hannah.


The data included texts from Henry to Hannah and Beaty where his sunglasses were, as well as suggestive texts from Beaty to Henry, which he said was putting the assault into action.


The phone data also showed numerous calls to and from Shirley throughout the 24-hour timeframe.


Dodd, who now serves as the Marion County Jail administrator, filed a report following Hannah’s plea agreement on May 29, saying that she heard Shirley confess to being involved in the fight.


She reported Shirley was angry when he found out that his step-son-in-law took a plead agreement to testify against him and said, “I’m not going to lie to you, I hit him on the head, but that’s only because he was on my son-in-law, hitting him. I didn’t stab him.”


Dodd said Shirley was “outrageous” when the state asked him to plead guilty.


Shirley asked Dodd to place him on Hannah’s side of the jail for five minutes. Dodd testified that she was under the impression Shirley wanted to fight Hannah.


Dodd said that the two have been separated for a long time and she did not grant Shirley’s request.


Experts weigh in


Dr. Valerie Green, a medical examiner with the Alabama Department of Forensics’ Huntsville office, testified that the cause of death was a stab wound in Henry’s lower back.


Green said that the blows from the level used by Shirley did not cause or contribute to the death of Henry.


Green also told the defense that traces of drugs identified in Henry’s blood would not have contributed to his death.


According to the medical examiner, the knife wound was four inches  deep and punctured Henry’s right lung and into his liver.


Green said that the injury would not have been immediately fatal and that the large amount of blood lost from two vascular organs would have caused Henry’s lungs to collapse.


DNA forensic scientist Gina Presley of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in Huntsville testified that forensic results from the knife used to kill Henry did not show traces of Shirley’s DNA. However, it did show traces of Beaty’s.


Charges changed


After the state rested, Carter dismissed the jury from the room to discuss charges with the defense and prosecutors.


The defense moved to dismiss Shirley’s capital murder charge.


Carter agreed that there had not been enough evidence presented to sustain a capital offense.


Carter said that there appeared to be no intent to kill, given that 9-1-1 was called and that they allowed Henry to walk away.


After conferring with members of Henry’s family, Slatton said that the state would agree to downgrade the charge to felony murder.
“Henry was stabbed by Candice Beaty. We don’t disagree with that,” Slatton said.


Carter explained that the crime of felony murder is committed when another is killed in the course of committing other various crimes.
Carter did not allow a motion to dimiss Shirley’s first-degree robbery charge. However, he did allow three drug-related and possession charges to be dismissed because the state failed to admit the drugs as evidence during the trial.


In a closing statement on May 7, Slatton told the jury that their decision to find Shirley guilty on either charge boiled down to whether he was aware of his step-daughter’s and step-son’s plan.


The defense closed, stating that Shirley was simply an extra in a movie script that Beaty wrote and unaware of any plan to beat or rob Henry.


Slatton stressed that all the evidence presented as well as the testimony from Hannah pointed to the fact Shirley was fully aware of what was going to happen and was ready to attack Henry with a level and steal his jewelry when the opportunities presented themselves.


Carter handed the jury the trial at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 7, charging them to make a decision concerning  felony murder and first-degree robbery. The jury returned with a guilty verdict at 8 p.m.


Shirley’s sentencing hearing will be held on Friday, July 19.


Shirley was represented by defense attorneys Brian White of Decatur and Jake Watson of Huntsville.


White and Watson are also representing Jimmy Dale Cooper, who is facing capital murder charges for the February 2016 deaths of Hamilton residents Linda Cole and Donny Miller.


According to Mixon, no trial date has been set for Beaty.


Beaty last appeared in court during an arraignment hearing in February 2017.


Beaty will be represented by defense attorneys Jim Standridge of Tuscaloosa and Tony Glenn of Hamilton.


(When a defendant is charged with a crime, the charge is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.)

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