Rock Hill teen in court for arson, murder charges
A judge will examine 10 years of files pertaining to 17-year-old Jacob Morgan and what prosecutors called a “long and painful involvement” with social services and law enforcement before deciding if the Rock Hill-area teen should be given bond on arson and murder charges.
Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III denied bond Wednesday for Morgan, who is charged with murder and arson in the death of his 14-month-old brother, Joshua. The toddler died in the March 6 fire at the family’s Catawba Church Road home southeast of Rock Hill. Morgan was outside the home when authorities arrived, and was charged several days later after he and his parents were interviewed by detectives.
A magistrate decided earlier this month that the state can proceed with its charges.
Morgan’s attorney, 16th Circuit Deputy Public Defender B.J. Barrowclough, requested bond, saying his client is not a danger to the community and doesn’t have the means to flee.
“There’s no prior record. There’s numerous people who have talked about him and know him as a good kid,” Barrowclough said. “In my experience with him, his demeanor, his vocabulary, his emotional state are more like somebody who is 9 or 10.”
For now, Morgan will remain incarcerated at Moss Justice Center in York.
“I’m reserving the right to amend, modify or change that ruling after I’ve reviewed the records,” Hayes said Wednesday, referring to the two binders that prosecutors say paint a picture of Morgan’s troubled past.
Kevin Brackett, 16th Circuit solicitor, said the binders, each several inches thick, contain school records and files associated with Morgan from the Department of Social Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice that go back 10 years.
“It reveals a long and painful involvement with the defendant, which has continuously deteriorated over the last 10 years despite the best efforts of the school system, the Department of Social Services and all the different social welfare groups the defendant has been involved with,” Brackett said.
Those files include “numerous” referrals for outpatient psychiatric treatment that resulted in diagnoses of bipolar disorder, oppositional defiance disorder and anti-social personality disorder, Brackett said. They also include police records from multiple calls to law enforcement after Morgan allegedly threatened and, in some cases attacked, family members.
“His stepfather told police in May 2014 that he was afraid to live in his own house with this defendant,” Brackett said.
The solicitor said Morgan’s mother called law enforcement to report the incidents, and that when his parents tried to discipline him, he would call DSS to report abuse. He added that while Morgan is in the “borderline to low intelligence,” the teen is “smarter than he lets on.”
“I believe that is an attempt to manipulate this court and the public opinion in an effort to gain sympathy,” Brackett said. “I don’t believe that he is, based on the records that I’ve seen, as intellectually disabled as he claims.”
Brackett asked Hayes to consider a mental evaluation for Morgan. When asked by Hayes if he sees a need for a mental evaluation, Barrowclough said he’s submitted an order for funding for a mental health expert.
“His problems, to me, from a lay point of view, I think are more emotional than intellectual,” Barrowclough said, adding that he would like an expert to “explore” those problems and determine if a mental evaluation is needed.
Barrowclough disagreed with Brackett on the comment reportedly made by Morgan’s stepfather, who Barrowclough said wasn’t supposed to be in the home with Morgan under a Family Court ruling because of “past abuse” in which Morgan was the alleged victim.
“To me, some of this is being turned on its head,” Barrowclough said.
Brackett agreed. “It would be charitable to characterize the family dynamic as disastrous,” he said.
Several of Morgan’s family members present in court Wednesday disagreed, and said they were surprised by some of the facts presented during the hearing.
“There’s nothing dysfunctional or disastrous about our family. We all love each other,” Morgan’s grandmother Deborah Morgan said.
Heather Morgan said that even if the family can’t afford to pay for the bond, her nephew at least deserves a chance.
“He’s been in (jail) long enough,” she said. “We don’t really have the money to make one, but if there was any chance we could, he deserves a chance to get out and see his family. He didn’t even get to go to his brother’s funeral.”
Morgan talks regularly with his mother and stepfather, according to Deborah Morgan.
“He only gets a 10-minute phone call and an hour’s visit,” she said. “You’re not gonna get much support during that time. With a 10-minute phone call, you more or less just get to say ‘Hey,’ ‘I love you’ and ‘Bye.’”
Teddy Kulmala • 803-329-4082