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News / Clark County News

Clark County serial killer Warren Forrest sentenced to life in prison in 1974 murder

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: February 17, 2023, 12:06pm
3 Photos
Defense attorney Sean Downs, left, listens as his client, serial killer Warren Forrest, top to bottom on screen, appears on video conference with Michael Morrison, brother of victim Martha Morrison, and Judge Robert Lewis in Clark County Superior Court on Friday afternoon. Michael Morrison gave a statement at the sentencing of Forrest for the murder of his sister.
Defense attorney Sean Downs, left, listens as his client, serial killer Warren Forrest, top to bottom on screen, appears on video conference with Michael Morrison, brother of victim Martha Morrison, and Judge Robert Lewis in Clark County Superior Court on Friday afternoon. Michael Morrison gave a statement at the sentencing of Forrest for the murder of his sister. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Serial killer Warren Forrest had a chance Friday to atone for the murder of a Portland girl and provide answers for his other suspected victims, some of whom have never been found.

The victim’s brother, Michael Morrison, begged Forrest to grant the same closure he’s found, nearly 50 years later, to the other families.

“You cannot undo the past, but you have the power to let those families find some peace,” Morrison said, appearing via Zoom in Clark County Superior Court for Forrest’s sentencing Friday.

The prosecution also urged Forrest to “put to end the wondering.”

But when asked if he wanted to address the court, Forrest, 73, said, “No, your honor,” eliciting expressions of disgust from people in the gallery.

Forrest — who appeared for his hearing via Zoom from the Clark County Jail — received a maximum term of life in prison for the 1974 slaying of 17-year-old Martha Morrison.

On Feb. 1, a jury convicted Forrest of first-degree murder, after deliberating for only 90 minutes. Morrison’s remains were discovered Oct. 12, 1974, by members of a hunting party in a densely wooded area of Dole Valley in eastern Clark County. However, they were not identified until July 2015.

The murder charge came following a breakthrough in her cold case. Blood found on an air pistol Forrest used to torture a Camas woman in October 1974 was identified as Morrison’s.

Because the murder occurred in 1974 — before the Sentencing Reform Act — there is no standard sentencing range; instead, a conviction of first-degree murder carries a life sentence. The Washington Indeterminate Sentence Review Board will set a minimum prison term of no less than 20 years. Should he still be alive, Forrest would be eligible for parole once he serves the minimum term.

A pattern of crimes

The Army veteran and former Clark County parks employee has been serving a life sentence since 1979 for the murder of 20-year-old Krista Kay Blake. She was last seen July 11, 1974, climbing into Forrest’s light blue van near downtown Vancouver. Her remains were found exactly two years later in a shallow grave on Clark County parks property at Tukes Mountain.

Forrest has come up for parole in that case four times since 2011. Last spring, the board extended his sentence by another 10 years.

In addition to Morrison and Blake, the former Battle Ground man is believed to be responsible for the abduction and slaying of at least four other women and girls in Clark County in the 1970s: Jamie Grissim, 16, Barbara Ann Derry, 18, Gloria Nadine Knutson, 19, and Carol Valenzuela, 18. He is also a person of interest in 14-year-old Diane Gilchrist’s disappearance.

Forrest has admitted to attacking two others: Norma Jean Countryman Lewis, then 15, and the Camas woman, then 20. Both survived and identified Forrest as their abductor.

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Valenzuela’s skeletal remains were found, along with Morrison’s, in shallow graves about 100 feet apart and about a mile from where Grissim’s wallet was found along a road two years earlier.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Lauren Boyd could not comment on whether charges will be filed against Forrest in Valenzuela’s death. Conversations with his defense attorney about any unadjudicated cases are ongoing, she said earlier this week.

In an emailed statement after sentencing, Boyd and Senior Deputy Prosecutor Aaron Bartlett said Forrest received a just sentence but that it came too late for Morrison’s family; her parents and sister died wondering what had happened to her.

“There remain families in our community who lost their loved ones long ago and, like Martha’s family, have been left wondering what happened for far too long.

“Forrest has claimed to feel remorse and guilt for the crimes he committed and for his victims. Forrest, who will now assuredly never step foot outside of prison, has the opportunity to put his words into action and end the wondering for those families. Until he does, the state will continue to seek to hold him accountable for his crimes.”

Preying on women

Michael Morrison told Forrest his “actions against my sister in 1974 have harmed generations of my family.”

He described his sister as outgoing, free-spirited, engaging and musically inclined. She played the guitar and was a jewelry artist.

“She never had a bad word to say about anybody that I know of,” he said.

But he noted, his sister’s best qualities are what Forrest preyed on.

Forrest took his sister “for no good reason,” he said — for his “perverted desires” and treated her body like trash.

Because of Forrest, she missed out on marriage, children, birthdays, holidays and much more, Michael Morrison said.

Outside the courtroom, Starr Lara — whose sister, Jamie Grissim, is believed to be Forrest’s first Clark County victim, said she teared up when listening to Michael Morrison talk about what he lost with his sister.

“He did a great job because he talked about the others, too, and they all lost that. It never ends, because the generations that would be here now. That really got to me,” she said.

Jamie disappeared Dec. 7, 1971, after leaving class at Fort Vancouver High School. Her remains have never been found.

“It really touched me when he said these were just trusting good girls who believed in the good of people. They couldn’t see the evil,” Lara said.

Countryman Lewis, now 64, referred to trial testimony in which Forrest was heard saying he assumed good girls didn’t hitchhike or ride with strangers.

“But we were all good girls. We were all good girls,” she said through tears, as Lara rubbed her back. “We were trusting and friendly, and he took advantage of that.”

Both women said they hope Forrest provides answers. But they aren’t optimistic. (Through his attorney, Forrest declined an interview request from The Columbian earlier this week.)

“Warren never has anything to say to the families,” Countryman Lewis said. “It’s the others I’m angry for. He’s holding these secrets, and there’s no reason to keep holding those secrets. There’s no humanity in that man.”

Lara said she’s not giving up on finding Jamie’s remains, and there are plans to hold another search in the coming weeks in Dole Valley.

“If it wasn’t for the prosecutors’ courage to bring this to trial, Martha wouldn’t have justice,” Lara said.

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