Morse’s defense attorney criticizes investigation

07/28/2014 6:58 PM

07/29/2014 6:12 PM

The attorney representing the son of the Merced County district attorney in a murder case on Monday blasted the investigators who arrested his client, Ethan B. Morse.

Morse, 18, son of District Attorney Larry D. Morse II, will be arraigned Tuesday in Merced County Superior Court, the California Attorney General’s Office confirmed. Morse, 18, was arrested Friday outside his Merced home on suspicion of murder in connection with the deaths on March 30, 2013, of three teenagers.

Defense attorney Kirk McAllister of Modesto told the Merced Sun-Star that Morse is “absolutely innocent.”

“My investigation shows without question that Ethan Morse is innocent,” McAllister said Monday. “They have to produce evidence, and when that evidence sees the light of day, it isn’t going to hold up because he’s innocent.”

McAllister went on to say he “absolutely” believes the Merced County sheriff’s detectives involved in the case have been not been thorough or fair in the investigation. “In terms of how misguided the investigation was by the sheriff’s office, I’m not going to rely on anything they show,” the veteran defense attorney said.

The case has been turned over to the California Attorney General’s Office in light of the arrest of the district attorney’s son.

Sheriff Tom Cavallero brushed off the criticism Monday and stood by his deputies.

“I have complete faith in investigation done by detectives and apparently the officials from the Attorney General’s office do as well,” Cavallero responded. “The entire investigation has has been made available to state Attorney General’s office, who will be seeking a complaint against Mr. Morse, and we’ll have to let the judicial system take it from there.”

Formal charges against Morse are expected to be filed Tuesday morning. The specific charges prosecutors plan to file could not be confirmed Monday.

Investigators have so far declined to say what role they believe Morse may have played. He was 16 at the time of the shootings.

Morse was the fourth suspect implicated the deaths of Samantha Parreira, 16; Bernabed Hernandez-Canela, 18; and Mathew Fisher, 19. All three were shot and killed during an Easter party in the 9200 block of Westside Boulevard near Atwater.

Three others have been charged in the same incident. Jose M. Carballido and Jose L. Botello, both 19-year-old Atwater residents, were arrested July 15 and charged with the murders of Parreira and Fisher. Jacob Tellez, 18, of Merced, also known as Jacob Logan, was booked into jail July 22. Tellez was charged with the murder of Hernandez-Canela, according to documents obtained Monday by the Merced Sun-Star.

All four suspects remain in custody.

Investigators believe the party started as an Easter celebration for high school students and eventually attracted more than 100 people, including members of multiple rival street gangs. Detectives have not said commented on any incidents at the party that may have sparked the violence. Investigators have also declined to say whether any weapons have been recovered.

The case against Tellez has been charged separately from the case against Carballido and Botello, both of whom have been charged as co-defendants, according to court documents.

Morse was implicated in connection with the investigation into Tellez, the Merced County Sheriff’s Department has said.

State prosecutors have accused Tellez of firing a handgun from a vehicle during an alleged gang-related drive-by shooting. The complaint filed at the Merced courthouse also accuses of Tellez of a prior strike conviction on Dec. 2, 2011, for street-gang participation as a minor.

Tellez, Carballido, and Botello have all been charged with using firearms and street-gang participation, according to the complaints. As of Monday evening, there were no documents formally accusing Morse of either gang participation or using a firearm.

Tellez, Carballido, and Botello appeared in court briefly last week, but no pleas were entered. Their hearings were continued to give them time to hire private attorneys, according to court records. They are scheduled to appear again Wednesday for arraignment.

The Merced Sun-Star on Monday filed formal requests for copies of all arrest and search-warrant affidavits in the case. Linda Romero-Soles, the Merced court’s chief executive officer, said it would take more than a week to produce those public records because of an apparent backlog of document requests at the courthouse.

Merced court officials took the unusual step Monday of directing all requests for documents regarding Morse directly to the court CEO. Typically, requests for court documents are handled by court clerks, including record requests for the other defendants implicated in the same case as Morse.

“It’s simply because we’ve had a higher-than-normal volume of media request in this case, and it’s easier if the media have a single point of contact so the information is consistent,” Romero-Soles said.

In his only public comments so far on the arrest, District Attorney Larry D. Morse stood by his son, but did not criticize anyone involved in the case directly. He said his son volunteered to speak with detectives without an attorney present.

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