Ethan Morse, son of former Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II, was fatally shot Friday morning at an Atwater home.
Merced County Sheriff Verne Warnke confirmed Morse’s death Friday afternoon.
Ethan Morse, 22, made headlines in 2014 after a Merced County judge declared him factually innocent regarding a 2013 Atwater murder case. Afterward, he sued Merced County for being falsely arrested, and a federal jury ruled in his favor in a civil lawsuit.
Police responded Friday to the 1800 block of Fir Avenue around 10 a.m. regarding a report of a shooting and found Morse. He was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. As of Friday afternoon, police did not have a suspect in custody.
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The shooter was described as a Hispanic male, wearing sunglasses, a black T-shirt and tan pants. He fled on foot eastbound on Fir Street.
Three nearby schools – St. Anthony’s School, Mitchell Senior School and Mitchell K-6 – were placed on lockdown after the shooting.
Merced County District Attorney Kimberly Lewis has recused herself from the case, according to a statement from her office. A deputy district attorney and district attorney investigator are assisting Atwater police.
“The assistance will continue pending a review and decision of the (State) Attorney General’s Office of a conflict of the entire Merced County District Attorney’s Office,” the statement read.
Ethan Morse was one of three sons to Larry Morse II and wife Cindy Morse, who is also an attorney. He was a standout varsity wrestler at Golden Valley High School, where he graduated from in 2014.
“The (Morse) family is overwhelmed and devastated,” said Rex Hays, a pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Patterson, who said he was speaking on behalf of the family.
“I’ve known Ethan his whole life,” Hays said. “He was a kind, loving and very respectful young man. He had so much potential. He was always open and compassionate for others, and he was a devoted father.”
Hays said the Morse family was asking for people’s thoughts and prayers as they cope with “this hateful, senseless, tragic event.”
Lawsuit against Merced County
After murder charges were dismissed against Ethan Morse, he sued Merced County, arguing that sheriff’s detectives lied about evidence and ignored facts that could have cleared his name in the 2013 Atwater homicide case.
On May 4 last year, a federal jury ruled detectives tricked a judge into signing an arrest warrant for Morse in July 2014. Morse was awarded $498,300 in damages, and the detectives involved in the case were ordered to pay $28,349 total.
Morse was questioned by Merced police in 2017, after drugs and guns were found in an apartment his father listed as a community property. Morse, who was not implicated in the case, told police he rented the apartment, but had moved two months prior.
Anyone with information on the shooting is being asked to contact the Atwater Police Department at 209-357-6396. Tips are confidential and you can remain anonymous.