Tuesday February 12, 2013

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- It has been eight months since an arrest warrant was issued in a 25-year-old homicide case for a man serving a life sentence in California on other offense, but it could be some months yet before the defendant is brought to Vermont to answer charges, owing to legal rules surrounding trial schedules.

DNA link

In July 2012, Vermont State Police announced that determined investigators and advances in DNA technology allowed them to link the death of Sarah Hunter, a golf pro who was reported missing on Sept. 19, 1986 and later found strangled in Pawlet, to David Allen Morrison, now 52, who police suspected initially and interviewed twice.

Morrison moved to California in 1988 and was soon arrested for the kidnapping, attempted murder and sexual assault of a woman there. He pleaded guilty to those charges and is currently serving time for them. When Morrison moved from Vermont he left his vehicle, which police vacuumed after his arrest. They found hair strands, which years later they were able to identify as Hunter's by comparing it to her sister's DNA.

In July, State's Attorney Eric Marthage said she expected Morrison to be brought to Vermont within 90 days to answer a first degree murder charge, but transporting prisoners from other states, especially across such long distances, is not without complication. She said she has no prediction on when Morrison might be brought to Vermont.

Marthage said the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD), a federal law governing the transport of prisoners between states under sentence for unrelated trials.

"That's essentially all cases that involve someone under sentence in another state," said Marthage in an interview Friday.

She said Morrison has been made aware of the warrant out for his arrest,

Marthage said once the arrest warrant is granted either her office or Morrison can file paperwork for the IAD. She said once the papers are filed in the necessary places "the clock starts ticking" on the amount of time in which Morrison would need to be brought to trial.

Marthage said the time frame if she requests the IAD is shorter than if Morrison requests it.

"It really comes down to strategy," she said, adding that she would want to make sure her office has enough time to prepare for a murder case given the other matters her office is handling and cited the results of "Operation County Strike" conducted by the Vermont Drug Task Force, which last month led to the arrests of more than 50 people suspected of being involved in the drug trade.

"The initial thinking was I was going to give him some time," Marthage said of Morrison. "Since he's under sentence and the mere fact that my arrest warrant exists, it's my understanding that A, he won't come up for parole, and B, I would be notified before he's released so I would be able to make a decision."

Logistical issues with how prisoners are transported are also a factor, she said, as they can cause weeks to be lost in preparation time. Marthage said prisoners are not flown anymore, and instead are moved from facility to facility similar to a railroad system. Prisoners are dropped off in one place while more are picked up, then they are moved again towards their destination. She said a prisoner bound for Vermont to Florida might find his or herself in the Midwest for a time.

Something just like that occurred with two Rutland men involved in the 2006 murder of a Winhall man. That year Joshua Gould, who was 29 when sentenced in 2008 to serve between 28 years and life in prison for second-degree murder, stabbed Renato Wieser to death in what began as a burglary. Gould fled to Florida with Christopher Kosmalski, who is the same age as Gould and was present during the murder, where they were both arrested on less severe charges.

Marthage said Gould and Kosmalski requested to come to Vermont but their arrival was unexpectedly delayed by three weeks which could have posed a problem had the two not taken plea deals.

She said the four men who were charged with beating and robbing the former owner of the Chocolate Barn in 2007 in Shaftsbury were also moved using the IAD. Some of them were serving time for bank robbery in New York and so it took a few years for each to answer their respective charges and be sentenced.

According to police, Morrison worked at the gas station near where police found Hunter's vehicle after she had gone missing.

Police said they followed up on leads for years before police in California contacted them in 2009 saying they were questioning Morrison about a murder bearing a resemblance to the Hunter case. Police said Morrison has denied the other killing but did not deny killing Hunter. Police said Morrison has made statements indicated he intends to talk about the Hunter case to them.