McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

June 14, 2013

Official report released in Stuart manslaughter case

By Jeanne LeFlore
Submitted report

McALESTER — The January shooting death of a Stuart man has been ruled a homicide, according to an official autopsy report.

 In March Joseph Henry Harden, 22, of Calvin was charged with first-degree manslaughter in connection with the shooting death of a Michael Eric Morris, 21, of Stuart.

The autopsy report by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner was Tuesday.

The report states the type of death as  “violent, unusual or unnatural.”

Harden was arrested immediately after the incident.

The report states Morris shot on the left side of his head, just below the ear within an intermediate range of fire.

Prosecutors in the case said the medical examiners report did add to the case.

“This confirms what we already knew,” said District 22 Assistant District Attorney Trish Smith.

Harden was charged for “unlawfully, willfully and feloniously, without a premeditated design to effect death, did cause and effect the death of (Morris) ... while engaging in the crime of reckless handling of a firearm, did cause the death of (Morris) by discharging the revolver striking Morris in the head and inflicting a mortal wound ...” according to court documents.

The case was investigated by the Hughes County Sheriff’s Department and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

Harden was originally held on a $100,000 bond which was later reduced to $45,000. Harden was released from Hughes County Jail after he posted bond after serving 16 days.

In January, officials were called to the scene of the death after a 911 call, according to an affidavit by OSBI Special Agent Adam Whitney.

“In a 911 call to the Hughes County sheriff, Harden said he had killed his ‘best friend’ but it was an accident and he had been drinking alcohol,” the affidavit states.

 Morris and Harden were among guests at a party at a home near Calvin. Most had left before the incident took place at about 6:15 a.m., according to Whitney.

Morris, Harden and another man were talking in the kitchen when Morris went outside and retrieved a .38 caliber revolver and brought it inside with a box of ammunition, the affidavit states.

Whitney’s affidavit alleges that as Morris sat on a kitchen counter, Harden stood nearby holding the revolver, the gun discharged, hitting Morris in the head. Morris slumped forward and there was “a lot of blood coming from Morris’s head ... and he fell to the floor.”

The affidavit also alleges that Harden told Hughes County Sheriff Kenny Snyder that Morris held the gun under his chin and told Harden to pull the trigger, but did not know the gun was loaded.

OnWednesday during a hearing Harden waived his right to a preliminary hearing and is now set for arraignment on June 28, at 9 a.m. at Hughes County District Court

If convicted of first degree manslaughter, Harden faces a minimum of four years in prison.

Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.