Second victim of hammer attack testifies

Woman was dating defendant, suffered brain tissue injury

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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The state rested its case Tuesday in the trial of a Battle Ground man accused of hitting his girlfriend and best friend in their heads with a hammer when he found them in bed together.

Defense attorney Jeff Sowder then asked the judge to dismiss a first-degree premeditated attempted murder charge against his client, Marcus Morrison. Sowder argued that the state had failed to present any evidence that Morrison had planned a murder on Nov. 23, when he went to the Vancouver home of his best friend, Aaron Warner.

He went there because he suspected Warner and Morrison's girlfriend, Rena Donnelly, were having sex.

"There is no evidence he went to the house to kill anybody," Sowder argued.

Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Lewis denied the motion, saying that "one inference (the jury could make) is that he intended to kill people, and he thought about that when he got the weapon."

Morrison, 31, is charged with two counts of first-degree attempted murder and two counts of second-degree attempted murder.

The force of the hammer fractured the skulls of both victims, according to testimony Tuesday.

Warner's skull was dented, but the dent didn't impact his brain tissue, said Dr. Maryclare Sarff of PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

Donnelly's skull facture caused bone shards to puncture some of her brain tissue, Sarff said. Neurosurgeon Dr. Hoang Le said that the damaged brain tissue has caused Donnelly to lose sensation in her right side. Donnelly testified Tuesday that she can move her right side but cannot feel when touched.

Le performed emergency surgery on Donnelly on the day of the attack because her injury exposed her brain to the air and needed to be sealed. Both victims also experienced brain bleeding, a condition physicians monitor closely because the pressure can sometimes kill the brain, Sarff said.

Celebration turns ugly

Donnelly testified that she and Morrison had been dating for a couple of months when the incident occurred. The night before the attack, she, Morrison and Warner went out drinking together at Main Street Station Bar & Grill in Battle Ground to celebrate Warner's upcoming birthday. While at the bar, Morrison became upset, apparently because Donnelly was paying more attention to Warner than to Morrison, according to testimony. She said he confronted her about her flirtations, and she responded by saying that she wasn't doing anything wrong and that she wouldn't tolerate his controlling behavior. She then broke up with him while they were inside the bar, she said.

"It's over," she told him.

Next, Morrison allegedly went to the bar's patio area and confronted Donnelly's ex-boyfriend, who happened to be at the bar, too. Afterward, he returned to Donnelly and told her that he'd beaten up her ex-boyfriend for her, she said. Then he left the bar, she said.

Later, she and Warner went to Warner's house in Vancouver's Kevanna neighborhood. Along the way, Morrison attempted to call both of them. Warner answered the phone and told Morrison that he had dropped Donnelly off at a friend's house, Donnelly said.

Donnelly and Warner watched "The Hobbit" together in Warner's bed and then went to sleep, she said.

Donnelly said she awoke when Morrison struck Warner in the head with a hammer. Morrison hit Warner a second time before striking Donnelly, who was knocked unconscious. Warner was still able to get up and walk around, according to testimony.

Morrison had entered Warner's residence through an unlocked door, inched open the door to Warner's bedroom and saw Warner and Donnelly in bed together, said Deputy Prosecutor Luka Vitasovic. Morrison then went to the home's garage, armed himself with a hammer and returned to the bedroom, where he assaulted the couple, the prosecutor said.

In a jail call to his grandmother, Morrison indicated he had no remorse for attacking the couple.

"They (expletive) deserved this (expletive) even if I did do it," Morrison said, according to an audio recording played in court. He accused the victims of betraying his trust, saying that Donnelly had previously proclaimed her love for him.

Psychologist Richard Yocum of Western State Hospital testified Tuesday that records indicated that Morrison had a blood alcohol level of 0.3, three times the legal limit for driving.

However, Yocum said that Morrison's intoxication had no effect on Morrison's ability to form intent.

On cross examination, Sowder asked Yocum whether the state had requested him to examine premeditation in his evaluation of Morrison. Yocum said that request had not been made.

Sowder is scheduled to present Morrison's defense beginning at 1:30 p.m. today.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; twitter.com/Col_Courts; facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com.