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News / Clark County News

Painful memories on display as Warren Forrest murder trial gets underway

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: January 24, 2023, 6:30pm
3 Photos
Suspected serial killer Warren Forrest leaves the courtroom after jury selection in his 1974 cold-case murder trial at the Clark County Courthouse on Tuesday morning.
Suspected serial killer Warren Forrest leaves the courtroom after jury selection in his 1974 cold-case murder trial at the Clark County Courthouse on Tuesday morning. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Old, painful memories surfaced Tuesday as witnesses took the stand in suspected serial killer Warren Forrest’s 1974 cold-case murder trial in Clark County Superior Court.

The jury of seven women and five men was impaneled late Tuesday morning, after a full day of jury selection Monday. Three women were selected as alternate jurors and would serve should a regular juror be excused.

Forrest, 73, is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of 17-year-old Martha Morrison of Portland. Her remains were discovered Oct. 12, 1974, by a member of a hunting party in a densely wooded area of Dole Valley in eastern Clark County. They were not identified until July 2015.

The murder charge came following a breakthrough in Morrison’s cold case. Blood found on an air pistol that Forrest used to torture a 20-year-old Camas woman in October 1974 was identified as Morrison’s.

In brief opening statements Tuesday, the prosecution told jurors the case will take them back nearly 50 years, to when Forrest was 25 years old.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Lauren Boyd said the state will present evidence Forrest acted on a plan to kill Morrison. But to understand that plan, the jury would hear how Forrest abducted and killed 20-year-old Krista Blake, and abducted and sexually assaulted the 20-year-old Camas woman, as well as Norma Countryman, then 15 years old.

The former Battle Ground man was convicted in the murder of Blake, who was last seen July 11, 1974, climbing into his light blue Ford Econoline cargo van near downtown Vancouver. He has been serving a life sentence for Blake’s killing since 1979.

Blake’s body — hands and feet bound, with evidence of torture from metal darts — was found in a shallow grave on Tukes Mountain, less than 200 feet from where Countryman escaped her attacker, whom she later identified as Forrest.

Defense attorney Sean Downs told the jury to focus on what’s missing from the prosecution’s case.

He said prosecutors don’t know who Morrison was last with, whether she ever traveled to Clark County or whether she crossed paths with Forrest. He also said it was unknown if she died from homicidal violence.

He argued prosecutors can’t show Forrest killed or had premeditated intent to kill Morrison.

Memories of his sister

On Tuesday afternoon, Morrison’s half brother, Michael Morrison, testified about her disappearance in September 1974.

He described his younger sister as bubbly, musically inclined, friendly and likable.

Michael Morrison recalled a dinner they shared with their mother in 1974 in the Eugene, Ore., area.

“That was the last time I saw her,” he said of his sister.

He said his sister was known to travel around, at times hitchhiking, but that “it was unusual for her not to call at least every few days.”

Many years later, he filed a missing-person report in Eugene and provided a DNA sample to law enforcement.

Countryman, too, took the stand Tuesday afternoon to recount her attack by Forrest on July 17, 1974.

Although time has muddled some of her recollection of the sequence of events, she remembers the details.

She wiped away tears as the prosecution showed sketches of her hog-tied and bound between two trees. She choked up as she recalled then-county parks employee James Bellew finding her at the Tukes Mountain facility after she escaped and offering her his jacket.

Bellew has since died. But his testimony of finding Countryman, which was given at Blake’s trial, was read into the record. (Forrest has never been charged with crimes against Countryman.)

The trial continues Wednesday with state’s witnesses.