Suspect in 1986 murder case pleads not guilty
BENNINGTON -- The man accused of killing Sarah Hunter 27 years ago in Manchester pleaded not guilty to a murder charge Tuesday in Vermont Superior Court.
David A. Morrison, 54, is currently serving out a lengthy jail sentence in California for kidnapping a woman there and attempting to rape and kill her.
The murder charge carries a life sentence upon conviction.
State's Attorney Erica Marthage said unless an agreement or a waiver is made, the trial has to commence 120 days from Sunday.
"He's here under the interstate agreement on detainers, so he's under a California sentence," she said. "We just have temporary custody. So, frankly, no matter what happens, he goes back to California."
Attorney Christopher Montgomery represented Morrison as a public defender, but it's not clear if he will continue to do so. It will be up to Defender General Matthew Valerio to assign a public defender if Morrison does not get private counsel.
A few members of Hunter's family were in the court room but declined to make a statement.
While Morrison is being held, he is not allowed contact with members of Hunter's family.
Police announced in July 2012 that they were filing the murder charge against Morrison after advances in DNA analysis allowed them to identify strands of hair found in his car as being that of Hunter's. When the charge was announced, Marthage said she hoped the arraignment would commence in 90 days. As time went on, Marthage said once she makes a request for Morrison to be transported the state has to meet a number of legal deadlines, so she was holding off until the case was ready. A few weeks ago, Morrison was moved from the prison in California. Marthage said the transportation process also takes time.
Hunter, who was 36 when she died and a golf pro at the Manchester Country Club, was reported missing on Sept. 19, 1986. Her car was found not long after, empty, at a gas station in Manchester Center.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1986, Hunter's body was found in a field in Pawlet. An autopsy showed she had been strangled to death and sexually assaulted not long after her abduction.
Morrison was interviewed twice in connection with her death, as he worked at a gas station near where her car was found.
Investigators did not have enough evidence to tie him to the crime, although he was considered a prime suspect.
The evidence that would lead to the murder charge was collected in 1988 when Morrison moved to California and attempted to rape and kill a woman. He had left his 1968 Chevrolet Impala with a friend in Arlington and it was vacuumed for evidence.
Police said they collected hair strands from the vehicle and 20 years later were able to compare them to DNA from Hunter's sister, confirming those strands belonged to Hunter.
In 2009, Morrison was interviewed in prison by Detective David Bavencoff, of the National City, California, Police Department about an unrelated homicide. Morrison told Vermont State Police Detective Helaine Gaiotti that he would be doing this, and asked for information on the Hunter case so he could question Morrison about that, too.
Morrison denied the other killing, but never denied killing Hunter.
He said he would address Hunter when he, "felt it was time," and that he did not "think I will take this to my grave."
He said the Hunter case could have been closed 17 years ago had his request to be transferred to a Vermont prison been agreed to.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @kwhitcombjr
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