Barry Morphew murder case: DA drops all charges

CAÑON CITY — Prosecutors on Monday dropped all charges against Barry Morphew in the death of his wife Suzanne Morphew — who disappeared from the family’s Chaffee County home in May 2020 — less than 10 days before the murder case was set to go to trial.

The move by 11th Judicial District Attorney Linda Stanley comes after the judge presiding in the case had blocked the prosecution from using most of its expert witnesses at trial as punishment for violating discovery rules — and as prosecutors say they’re close to discovering Suzanne Morphew’s body.

Fremont County District Court Judge Ramsey Lama granted the prosecution’s 11-page motion to dismiss without prejudice, meaning the district attorney can refile the charges in the future.

Suzanne Morphew’s family supported the dismissal of charges at this time, the motion says.

Barry Morphew’s defense attorney, Iris Eytan, argued in court that the case should be dismissed with prejudice so that it could not be refiled. She said Stanley was acting in bad faith to avoid the steep sanctions over the discovery violations.

In the motion, Stanley wrote that she believes investigators are close to finding Suzanne Morphew’s body.

“The People were hopeful that the search for, and the discovery of, the victim’s body would be concluded well before trial, but weather has complicated the efforts,” she wrote.

Stanley also wrote that the judge’s limiting of expert witnesses is part of the reason for the dismissal: “The Court functionally excluded the People’s best evidence to move forward in this case by severely limiting our expert’s testimony,” the motion reads.

Barry Morphew, 54, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Suzanne Morphew, 49. She was reported missing by a neighbor, prompting an extensive yearlong search, but her body was never found.

Barry Morphew was charged with murder and connected counts in May 2021 and is set to stand trial on April 28. Prosecutors argue that Barry Morphew discovered his wife’s nearly two-year extramarital affair and killed her on the evening of May 9, 2020, then disposed of her body and staged a bike crash before leaving early the next day to work in Broomfield.

On the morning of May 10, 2020, Barry Morphew threw objects away at at least five different locations across the Broomfield area, prosecutors said. After the neighbor discovered Suzanne Morphew was missing, Barry Morphew returned to Chaffee County and searched for her. He claimed his wife was asleep when he left for work that day. Authorities found her bicycle in a ditch off County Road 225. Her helmet was found nearly a mile away a few days later. Investigators later discovered Suzanne Morphew’s affair and that she’d thought about leaving her husband.

Lama previously excluded 12 of the prosecution’s 14 expert witnesses in the case as punishment for the district attorney’s negligent and “arguably reckless” pattern of violating discovery rules, he wrote in an April 8 order.

Prosecutors are required to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense ahead of trial. But 11th Judicial District Attorney Linda Stanley and her team repeatedly missed deadlines, misrepresented evidence and failed to turn over key information, Lama found.

“Over the last eight months and over multiple days of hearings, the Court has witnessed a pattern of disregard by the People towards its Rule 16 obligations… This Court has repeatedly noted it does not, in any way, condone the People’s behavior,” Lama wrote in the 20-page order. “The behavior has, in the Court’s eyes, been recognizably consistent. While the Court… does not find this pattern willful based on the record, the Court does find this pattern to be negligent, bordering on, reckless.”

Prosecutors did not properly tell defense attorneys about unknown male DNA that was found in Suzanne Morphew’s vehicle or that the DNA profile partially matched samples from three unsolved sex assaults across the country. Stanley’s office also failed to meet several deadlines for disclosing the expected thrust of their expert witnesses’ testimony, the order says.

Because of those failures, Lama said prosecution experts in DNA, vehicle data and cell phone data analysis cannot testify during the jury trial — essentially excluding information that the prosecution said in a court filing was “critical” to their case.

“The exclusion of these witnesses damages the People’s case in a profound way,” Deputy District Attorney Grant Grosgebauer wrote in a motion asking the judge to reconsider.

Denver defense attorney David Lane said Monday that the sanctions are unusual and he would have liked to see even more severe punishment.

“Most prosecutors play within the rules of professionalism and ethics,” he said. “You don’t really see it very often. But these prosecutors apparently have never read these rules, much less complied with them. It’s very unusual to have all these shenanigans come up in one case.”

He suggested Lama should have taken additional steps to punish the violations, like recommending the prosecutors face disciplinary action or holding them in contempt of court.

“Striking witnesses is a pretty strong remedy and I commend the judge for doing that,” Lane said. “But they apparently haven’t learned their lesson even from that.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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