For the first time in what Cape and Islands assistant district attorney Laura Marshard said was a career of criminal activity that spanned four decades on Martha’s Vineyard, Richard J. Morris will serve a sentence not in the Dukes County House of Correction, but in state prison off-Island.
Mr. Morris pled guilty Tuesday to 10 separate crimes including drug-dealing, possession of narcotics, and larceny, as part of plea agreements in both Edgartown District Court and Dukes County Superior Court.
The plea agreement followed three separate arrests in the past 12 months for drug violations or larceny, during which police seized more than 59 grams of heroin, some of it uncut, some of it packaged for distribution, plus $9,000 in cash. These were the latest in a long string of drug and larceny arrests for Mr. Morris, a resident of Oak Bluffs.
On Wednesday morning, Superior Court Associate Justice Herman S. Smith Jr. sentenced Mr. Morris to three to six years in state prison, and four years of probation once he finishes his prison sentence.
He will be eligible for parole in three years, minus credit earned for good behavior, and minus the approximately five months he has already served in the Dukes County House of Correction awaiting court action on his last three arrests.
“It brings everything to a conclusion,” retired State Police commander Neal Maciel said at the courthouse Tuesday. Mr. Maciel spent much of his career investigating and arresting Mr. Morris, and he was often frustrated by the court’s decisions on sentencing.
“The cases never seemed to end,” he said. Mr. Maciel was an unsuccessful candidate for Dukes County sheriff last year.
Crime and punishment
Assistant district attorney Laura Marshard opened the proceedings Tuesday by reciting the long criminal record Mr. Morris has compiled.
“The Commonwealth looks at Mr. Morris and sees a man in his fifties, entering his fourth decade of criminal conduct, all of it here on the Island,” she told the court. “He repeatedly, without deterrent, without a break, continued to be arrested and convicted on drug and larceny charges.”
She took the record decade by decade. In the 1980s, a conviction for larceny, and a two-year suspended sentence served after he violated the terms of his probation.
In the 1990s, a conviction for drug dealing, and again a sentence served after violating probation.
In the new millennium, several arrests and more jail time on drug and larceny charges.
In this decade, the three arrests he was in court to face Tuesday.
The first order of business was an arraignment. On Monday, a Dukes County Grand Jury returned a six-count indictment against Mr. Morris, stemming from an arrest on January 26. On that evening, the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force executed a search warrant at his house on James Place in Oak Bluffs.
He was not at home, but Ms. Marshard told the court his wife directed police to his bedroom. According to their reports, they seized prescription drugs, packaging material, scales with drug residue, legers recording drug sales, and three small packages of heroin from the home.
At precisely the same time, the task force executed a coordinated search at a nearby house on Dreamer’s Way. There they found and arrested Mr. Morris.
Also at that house, they arrested brothers Joseph and Luke DePriest, and seized more than 150 marijuana plants growing in an elaborate basement cultivation system.
The first part of the plea agreement grew out of an arrest on April 12, 2010. On that day, then State Police Commander Maciel led a drug task force team that stopped the truck Mr. Morris was driving as it exited the ferry Island Home in Vineyard Haven. According to the police reports, Mr. Morris was returning from a trip to Worcester, where he sold a large quantity of copper wire to a scrap dealer.
“Mr. Morris ultimately sold 1,377 pounds of copper wire to Metals Recycling, and received $4,378,” Ms. Marshard told the court, outlining the evidence the Commonwealth would have presented had the case gone to trial. She said NSTAR officials were ready to testify that the wire, manufactured and uniquely marked for NSTAR, was stolen from the public utility’s yard off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, in the week before Mr. Morris traveled to Worcester.
After impounding the truck Mr. Morris drove off the ferry, police called for a specially trained dog, which alerted them to the scent of narcotics near the rear of the truck. According to their reports, police found 50 grams of uncut heroin concealed behind a taillight, masked by pet food intended to confuse the K-9 unit. That evidence did not come up in court Tuesday, because a judge later ruled the drug task force had no probable cause to search the truck and should have obtained a search warrant. The evidence was thrown out, and yesterday the Commonwealth asked that charges relating to the hidden drugs be dismissed.
For the theft of the copper wire, Mr. Morris was charged with being a common receiver, an antiquated legal term reserved for defendants with multiple convictions for receiving stolen property. The state law is aimed at habitual criminals, and the penalty is stiff, up to 10 years in state prison. Mr. Morris pled guilty to the common receiver charge on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Judge Smith ordered him to state prison for a term of three to six years. On a separate charge of possession of heroin, seized from the cab of the vehicle that day, Mr. Morris pled guilty and was sentenced to four years of probation, beginning when his sentence is complete. As part of the plea agreement, he agreed to forfeit the more than $4,000 in cash that police seized at the time of the arrest.
Search and seizure
Next came the plea agreement from the January 26 task force search and arrest of Mr. Morris.
The grand jury indictment returned a day earlier detailed a complete alphabet soup of drug offenses, including possession with intent to distribute class A, B, C, D, and E drugs, six counts in all, ranging from heroin to prescription narcotics to marijuana. On Tuesday, Mr. Morris pled guilty to all six. On Wednesday, Judge Smith imposed a sentence of three to six years in state prison on the conviction for possession with intent to distribute heroin, to be served concurrently with the sentence of the same length he had imposed a few minutes earlier. On each of the rest of the charges, the judge sentenced Mr. Morris to four years of probation, once his jail sentence is done. As part of the plea agreement, Mr. Morris agreed to forfeit $3,700 in cash seized at the time of that arrest.
Joseph Depriest, 41, and Luke Depriest, 31, were in the courtroom Tuesday, watching the court proceedings. As Mr. Morris plowed through the long process of admitting his crimes and acknowledging his understanding of the plea agreement, Joseph DePriest directed epithets toward a courtroom visitor, and a court officer ordered him out of the courtroom.
Finally, jurisdiction in the legal procedure moved to Edgartown District Court. Same courtroom, same judge, new charges. On July 4, 2010, police arrested Mr. Morris after stopping his van for a traffic violation.
“They observed Mr. Morris frantically moving around inside the vehicle,” Ms. Marshard told the court. During a search, police say they found six packets of heroin concealed in a candy package. He pleaded guilty to a charge of possession with intent to distribute heroin in connection with that arrest. Judge Smith sentenced him to six months in a house of correction on that conviction.
Lastly, Mr. Morris pled guilty to trespassing. Police say they found him trying to break into the van impounded after the July 4 arrest, as the vehicle sat parked in a police storage lot. That got him 30 days.
As near gale force wind rattled the old Edgartown courthouse, court officers led Mr. Morris, shackled hand and foot, out of the courtroom to spend one more night in the Dukes County House of Correction, where he has already spent more than five years of his life.