McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

February 22, 2013

ME; Hughes County shooting death a homicide

By Jeanne LeFlore
Staff Writer

McALESTER — The shooting death of a Hughes County man has been determined to be a homicide, according to a report issued by the Chief Medical Examiner’s office.

Joseph Henry Harden, 22, of Calvin, was arrested Jan. 20 in the January 20 shooting death of 21-year-old Michael Morris, of Stuart.

Harden was arrested in connection with the death but has still not been charged in the case and remains free on bail.

Tuesday, the state Chief Medical Examiner’s Office release autopsy results indicating a cause and manner of Morris’ death.

“The cause of death is a gunshot wound to the head and the manner of the death is homicide,” Amy Elliot, of the Chief Medical Examiners office, told the McAlester News-Capital Thursday.

Elliot said a final autopsy report has not yet been released.

Harden had not been charged in the case as of Thursday morning, more than a month after his arrest, although a probable cause affidavit was filed in the case in Hughes County District Court. He was originally held on a $100,000 bond. The amount was later reduced to $45,000 and Harden was released after posting the bond.

On Thursday, District 22 Assistant District Attorney Trish Smith said she is still waiting for information from the OSBI and the final autopsy report from the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office to complete the investigation before she can more forward with possible charges.

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

The affidavit also states 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.

Earlier this month, Harden’s attorney Warren Gotcher, of McAlester, said it is unusual for a person be held and released on bond without being charged. Gotcher declined further comment further on the case.

Harden is set to appear in Hughes County District Court on Tuesday at 9 a.m.

Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.