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September 12, 2013

Man gets life for DWI

Chandler man had seven prior convictions since ’71

Athens — A Henderson County jury on Thursday sentenced a 62-year-old Chandler man to life in prison after being convicted of driving while intoxicated for the eighth time.

Richard King Morris, 62, of Chandler, received the life sentence for a September 2012 early afternoon DWI on FM 315 south of Chandler. Morris pled guilty to the court before a jury of seven women and five men were selected to hear evidence and assess a punishment.  The sentence was handed down after two days of testimony and evidence presented by District Attorney Scott McKee and 1st Assistant District Attorney Mark Hall.     

3rd Judicial District Court Judge Mark Calhoon presided over the trial.

During the trial, Texas Department of Public Safety  Trooper Joe Gomez testified that he received a dispatch to a one-vehicle wreck on FM 315 South of Chandler near the Wildewood subdivision entrance. Upon his arrival, Gomez discovered a late model GMC pickup crashed into a utility pole. The pickup had sustained damage to the front. 

Witnesses at the scene informed Gomez that the man involved in the crash, later identified as Morris, had already been transported to East Texas Medical Center Tyler. One witness saw Morris buying Gin at a liquor store just prior to the wreck. The same witness stated he was behind Morris until the crash and witnessed him weaving and swerving, nearly running a van off the road. The witness pulled up beside Morris in the oncoming lane and noticed Morris was passed out behind the wheel with the vehicle heading North on FM 315 just prior to impacting the utility pole.

DPS Trooper Glen Davenport testified that he traveled to the hospital to interview Morris who was being evaluated for injuries. Medical personnel at the hospital discovered no injuries, but did take a sample of blood from Morris at the request of Davenport after Morris consented to the draw. A subsequent test of the blood from DPS crime lab scientist Karen Ream revealed that Morris’s BAC was over .40, more than five times the legal limit. 

During the trial, McKee and Hall presented evidence of seven prior DWI convictions and multiple DWI arrests of Morris dating back to 1971. 

Hall asked the jury in closing arguments to “put aside an emotional argument from the defense for leniency in order to do something you know you must do in order to protect others.” 

The defense called witnesses who testified about changes Morris had made while in jail. Morris also testified on his own behalf, admitting to McKee during cross-examination that he had driven while intoxicated numerous times throughout his life. 

“It is beyond comprehension that Morris was back on the street after so many prior DWIs,” McKee said to the jury.  “Somewhere our system has failed when a man with 11 prior DWIs is allowed to have a driver’s license and is even out of jail and on the streets.” 

McKee indicated his office works closely with MADD and law enforcement agencies to work towards DWI education. 

“We just want people to know that if they drink, we don’t want them to drive,” he said.

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