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Judge OKs statements to cops for Morgia’s murder trial

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A judge has ruled that most statements made to police by a Watertown man accused of killing a Brownville woman during a high-speed pursuit can be used against him at trial.

Questions had arisen about whether Francis T. “Terry” Morgia II was impaired by drugs when he spoke to police Oct. 3 after being involved in a two-vehicle accident at routes 12 and 342 that killed Shirley H. Hammond, 75. It is alleged that police pursued Morgia’s vehicle after receiving a report that he had been involved in a purse-snatching in which the elderly victim had been knocked down at Kohl’s department store in the town of Watertown.

After the crash, Morgia allegedly fled the scene on foot into nearby woods, but was soon apprehended. It is alleged that he told police he had used crack cocaine 14 hours before the accident, and while interviewing him Watertown police Sgt. Joseph C. Reff determined he was under the influence of a stimulant. In addition to a charge of second-degree murder, Morgia faces 71 other counts, including driving under the influence of drugs.

Morgia’s attorney, David P. Antonucci, Watertown, challenged whether Morgia was able to fully understand his legal rights as he made statements to police. Mr. Antonucci filed a motion in Jefferson County Court seeking to have the statements suppressed.

Following a pretrial conference in the criminal case Friday, Chief Assistant District Attorney Kristyna S. Mills said Judge Kim H. Martusewicz has ruled that virtually all of Morgia’s statements can be used against him at trial, with the exception of statements he allegedly made as he was being led from the woods, before being advised of his Miranda rights.

Thomas M. Guarasce, an investigator with the state police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, testified at a March 26 evidence suppression hearing that he was the first person to interview Morgia at the scene. He said Morgia told him he was “dope sick,” which the investigator took to mean that he was craving drugs. Mr. Guarasce, Sgt. Reff and Michael C. Pastuf, senior BCI investigator, each testified that Morgia understood his constitutional right to have a lawyer present for questioning despite his allegedly being under the influence of drugs.

Morgia’s trial is scheduled to begin May 21, with a final pretrial conference set for May 11. He also faces several counts of assault for injuries suffered in the accident by Mrs. Hammond’s son, off-duty Watertown police Officer William K. Rafferty, Mrs. Hammond’s other son, Jeffrey C. Hammond, and Autumn Tharrett, an off-duty Syracuse police officer. He is further implicated in four additional purse-snatchings that occurred between Sept. 1 and Oct. 3, all in the town of Watertown.

He is being held at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building on $500,000 bail.

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