Jury deliberates in hammer attack case

Verdict could come today; B.G. man faces attempted murder charge

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

A Clark County jury began deliberating Thursday in the attempted murder trial of a Battle Ground man accused of bashing his then-girlfriend and best friend in their heads with a hammer when he found them in bed together.

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

The jury ended the day without reaching a verdict, and is to resume its work this morning.

The 12 jurors have been asked to decide, firstly, whether Morrison intended to kill, and secondly, whether the act was premeditated. The second factor is needed for conviction of the more severe charge of first-degree attempted murder.

If the jury finds there isn't proof of an intent to kill, Morrison could walk free. Deputy Prosecutor Luka Vitasovic opted not to file assault charges against Morrison.

"I felt like the charges we ended up going forward on most accurately reflected his conduct," Vitasovic said.

Deliberations began at about 10:30 a.m. Thursday after Morrison's defense attorney, Jeff Sowder, gave his closing argument and Vitasovic responded with a rebuttal.

In his statement, Sowder asserted that Morrison was charged with the wrong crimes.

"This was always an assault with an attempt to do bodily harm," Sowder said.

An intoxicated Morrison allegedly used a hammer to fracture the skulls of his best friend, Aaron Warner, and then-girlfriend, Rena Donnelly, while they were sleeping at Warner's house in Vancouver.

Sowder said Morrison acted in the heat of passion after seeing "his girl" in bed with his best friend.

"If he intended to kill, why didn't he keep pounding?" Sowder asked.

The elements of attempted murder have not been proven, the defense attorney concluded.

"You can't convict him of attempted murder because you don't want to let him off," Sowder continued. "Your options are foreclosed by the way (Vitasovic) has charged. That's not an excuse to find (my client) guilty of attempted murder."

Prosecution responds

In his rebuttal, Vitasovic said that Morrison didn't have to finish off the victims to have committed attempted murder.

"All that needs to be shown is he took a substantial step toward murder in the first degree," the prosecutor said. "He almost finished the job with Rena. Absent her wound being addressed … she would have died."

Donnelly's skull facture exposed her brain to the open air and caused bone splinters to puncture her brain tissue, permanently interfering with her mobility and sensation on the right side, according to testimony. Without treatment, her brain swelling could have resulted in death, one of her physicians testified. Warner's skull also was fractured, but his brain tissue wasn't injured.

"If you hit someone with multiple blows to the head with a hammer, the intent is murder," Vitasovic said.

'There is your intent'

Donnelly testified Tuesday that she and Morrison had been dating for a couple of months when the incident occurred.

The night before the attack, Morrison, Donnelly and Warner were drinking together at a Battle Ground saloon to celebrate Warner's upcoming birthday. While at the bar, Morrison became upset, apparently because he thought Donnelly was paying more attention to Warner, according to testimony. She said he confronted her about her flirtations, and she responded that she wouldn't tolerate his controlling behavior and then said she was breaking up with him.

Under cross examination, Donnelly admitted that she and Warner were naked from the waist down under the covers. However, at the request of Vitasovic, Superior Court Judge Robert Lewis prohibited Sowder from asking whether Donnelly and Warner had sex that night.

Donnelly said she awoke when Morrison struck Warner in the head with a hammer. In response to her screams, Morrison raised the hammer and told Donnelly, "shut the (expletive) up, (expletive); you're next," Warner testified Monday.

Then, Morrison struck Donnelly in the head with the hammer as she attempted to get away, Warner said.

Vitasovic noted that Morrison walked all the way from Battle Ground to Warner's house in Vancouver because he suspected that Donnelly and Warner were having sex.

Vitasovic said if Morrison had assaulted the couple in the heat of passion, he would have punched them or grabbed a lamp or some other nearby object to strike them. Instead, he decided to quietly leave the bedroom as not to wake them, sneak into the garage and obtain a deadly weapon — a hammer, Vitasovic said.

"There is your premeditation; there is your intent," Vitasovic said.