In yet another twist of events surrounding the Morphew murder trial, this past Thursday, Colorado District 11 Judge Patrick Murphy made the decision to remove himself from the trial because of a longtime friendship and family relationship with an attorney who represents a woman identified as Morphew’s girlfriend.
During the December 14 hearing on pretrial motions, Morphew’s attorneys filed a motion asking that Murphy be disqualified because he is friends with the woman’s attorney Sean McDermott.
“Even though the conflict relates to a very small portion of the case and even though the court does not personally believe the relationship with Mr. McDermott would affect the Court, the Court finds that (it) has no choice but to disqualify,” Murphy wrote in his order, dated Thursday, Dec. 30.
McDermott is representing Shoshona Darke in another court case. She is a Salida woman who has been romantically linked to Morphew. Darke is also expected to be a witness in the murder trial.
Suzanne Morphew disappeared on Mothers Day, 2020 and her body has not been found. The district attorney’s case has hinged on the theory that she was planning to leave Barry Morphew, so he killed her and hid her body. Morphew has repeatedly claimed that he did not kill his wife. His attorneys have advanced more than one theory to explain her disappearance and Barry Morphew’s claimed innocence.
Under one theory, they suggest that there is a connection to a sex offender who had attacked other women in Arizona. In another theory, they suggested she ran off to a foreign country with plans to join a lover from Michigan. Each theory has tended to cast doubt upon some aspect of the District Attorney’s case against Morphew.
Morphew has been free on a $500,000 bond.
A hearing had been set for Tuesday, Jan. 11, for Murphy to render his decision regarding recusal, and additional motions hearings are set for Jan. 25, Feb.1, and Feb. 8. The pre-trial conference is scheduled for April 8, with jury selection beginning about a month earlier.
As yet no new judge has been named. That’s because normally, the chief justice overseeing the judicial district is the person who will appoint a replacement. But since Murphy is the chief justice of the 11th Judicial District, the responsibility now transfers to state Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Boatright.
According to Ed Moss, a retired judge who has written extensively on judicial ethics, a change in judges shouldn’t hinder the trial. “I think it’s just fine. The rule on disqualification for social relationships is not crystal clear,” said Moss. “The Colorado Supreme Court has a case they decided a couple of years ago. It said the circumstance depended on the quality nature and closeness of the relationship, and the judge has to answer how close the relationship is.”
A new judge is going to have to get up to speed quickly. Murphy has presided over the Morphew case from the beginning. He signed every search warrant, the arrest warrant, and made major decisions like agreeing to let Morphew out of jail on $500,000 cash bond.
District Attorney Linda Stanley has expressed confidence, saying that she doesn’t expect the trial to be postponed because of the development. It remains set to begin in May at the Chaffee County Courthouse and is expected to last at least three weeks.