McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

January 26, 2014

Pitts. County jury acquits in DUI case

By Trevor Dunbar
Staff Writer

McALESTER — The verdict is in.

A jury this week found Donald Lee Morris not guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol, according to documents filed at the Pittsburg County Courthouse.

The verdict was returned on Tuesday evening, after a day-long trial. Associate District Judge James D. Bland presided over the jury trial.

Morris originally entered a guilty plea to the charge Sept. 18 and was sentenced to 15 years in custody of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, with all but the first 10 years suspended. Morris was, at that time, represented by defense attorney Jeff Contreras, according to court records.

In October, Morris replaced Contreras with Pat Layden as his new defense attorney.

Layden later filed a motion to withdraw the guilty plea. The court granted the motion on Oct. 16 and Morris’ bond was set at $10,000. Court records show his preliminary hearing was held on Oct. 25.

The Moore man allegedly turned too sharply in front of Oklahoma Trooper Marshall Hawthorne, prompting the patrolman to stop him, according to testimony before the jury Tuesday.

Court documents show the alleged incident occurred at the intersection of U.S. Highway 69 and Hardy Springs Road.

Hawthorne alleged the man did not immediately stop. He testified Morris sped up, then continued on for less than a mile after the trooper’s emergency lights were turned on.

“When he sped up, I turned my lights off,” Hawthorne said. “I did not want to be in pursuit. I thought if I turned my lights off he might think I was not going to stop” Morris.

The trooper testified Morris did pull over to the shoulder when the emergency lights came on again moments later.

Hawthorne alleged the driver appeared intoxicated immediately, though there was no noticeable smell of alcohol.

Hawthorne said he based the stop on Morris turning sharply in front of him, as well as the actions of the driver.

“I observed that he was driving with both hands on the wheel and looking straight ahead,” Hawthorne said. “To me, he appeared to be under the influence.”

The trooper also testified he did not administer any kind of sobriety tests, though he did offer other signs he alleged indicated Morris was intoxicated.

He said the stop occurred at 2 a.m., which he said was a common time for drunk drivers to be on the roads.

“It was the time of night and the way he came across,” Hawthorne said. “It was the way he accelerated when I red-lighted him.”

In the end, the jury did not feel they had enough evidence to convict.

Neither Morris nor his defense attorney, Layden, was available for comment by presstime.

Contact Trevor Dunbar at tdunbar@mcalesternews.com.