Archive for Friday, September 5, 2008

KBI, coroner, defendant testify in hit-and-run trial

Ramona Morgan becomes emotional while testifying Friday in her second-degree murder trial.

Ramona Morgan becomes emotional while testifying Friday in her second-degree murder trial.

September 5, 2008


Defendant takes the stand in hit-and-run trial

The woman accused of killing two workers on Highway 59 south of Lawrence last year took the stand in her own defense on Friday. Enlarge video

Family members of Rolland Griffith gather at a memorial for Griffith and Tyrone Korte on the western side of U.S. Highway 59 in Pleasant Grove, south of Lawrence. They visited the memorial on Friday after the day's proceedings ended in the trial of Ramona Morgan. Morgan is accused of striking and killing the two road construction workers with her pickup truck on Sept. 11, 2007.

Family members of Rolland Griffith gather at a memorial for Griffith and Tyrone Korte on the western side of U.S. Highway 59 in Pleasant Grove, south of Lawrence. They visited the memorial on Friday after the day's proceedings ended in the trial of Ramona Morgan. Morgan is accused of striking and killing the two road construction workers with her pickup truck on Sept. 11, 2007.

Craig Springer, of Hillcrest Wrecker, unloads the truck that prosecutors say Ramona Morgan was driving when Tyrone Korte and Rolland Griffith were killed last September on U.S. Highway 59. The vehicle was displayed for the jury Friday outside the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

Craig Springer, of Hillcrest Wrecker, unloads the truck that prosecutors say Ramona Morgan was driving when Tyrone Korte and Rolland Griffith were killed last September on U.S. Highway 59. The vehicle was displayed for the jury Friday outside the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

The trial

Ramona I. Morgan faces two reckless second-degree murder charges and one aggravated battery charge for a Sept. 11, 2007, hit-and-run in a U.S. Highway 59 construction zone south of Lawrence. Her jury trial continues Monday.

The 3 victims:

¢ Tyrone Korte, 30, Seneca, an inspector for the Kansas Department of Transportation, died at the scene.

¢ Rolland "Ron" Griffith, 24, El Dorado, a construction worker for Dustrol Inc., died at the scene.

¢ Curtis Delzell, a Dustrol Inc. construction worker, was injured at the scene.

During cross-examination Friday, a Douglas County prosecutor accused a murder defendant of being angry and sleep-deprived when she struck and killed two highway construction workers on Sept. 11, 2007.

"I honestly didn't see any people," replied defendant Ramona Morgan, 49, of Washington state, who faces two reckless second-degree murder charges.

Before a packed courtroom, she insisted that she struck orange-and-gray construction barrels and said people were chasing her and trying to kill her while driving south on U.S. Highway 59 near Pleasant Grove that day.

During questioning, David Melton, a chief assistant Douglas County district attorney, said Morgan was tired and upset from driving across the country, only to be disappointed with land she intended to purchase near Eldridge, Mo.

Morgan's testimony, in her own defense, capped an eventful fourth day of the murder trial, where she is accused of running over construction workers Tyrone Korte, 30, of Seneca, and Rolland Griffith, 24, of El Dorado. Some of the day's key events were:

¢ Kansas Bureau of Investigation forensic scientist Karen Oyerly testified that DNA from Korte and Griffith was found in the damaged front end of Morgan's Chevrolet Silverado.

¢ Two Kansas Highway Patrol troopers testified that Morgan was driving more than 50 mph when, they said, she struck Korte and Griffith, throwing their bodies more than 115 feet.

¢ Deputy coroner Altaf Hossain testified that Korte and Griffith suffered fatal brain injuries. He also said the injuries were consistent with the damage he noted in Morgan's pickup truck.

¢ Jurors also viewed the damaged truck.

Taking the stand

During testimony, Morgan said that on Sept. 10 she had driven to central Missouri to buy land and a mobile home, but she was not satisfied with the condition. She then said as she drove across Missouri to try to return to Washington, a group of vehicles kept harassing her on the road, and she said a man shot at her.

Morgan also said she felt police in Missouri were not trying to help her.

During a brief stop at a hotel in Gardner during the early morning hours of Sept. 11, she said a man was looking at her truck, which again frightened her. She was carrying cash to make the real estate transaction.

Morgan said hours later she was driving on a two-lane paved road when a woman with a stop sign started striking her truck. She also saw a vehicle coming from behind her, which startled her.

Construction worker Amanda Hopper has testified that she struck the truck with her stop sign because the driver was disobeying her orders in the construction zone near North 900 Road and U.S 59. But Morgan said she felt threatened.

"I was trying to get out of there. I thought they were connected to ones that were trying to kill me in Missouri, and their actions led me to believe that they were trying to kill me," she said.

During the incident, Morgan also said a man "poured gasoline" on her, and she said people were throwing things at her truck, causing glass and the windshield to break.

"Did you remember striking anybody?" asked Morgan's defense attorney Billy Rork.

"No," Morgan said.

Morgan and her daughter, Sabrina, 27, who was a passenger in the truck during the incident, were later arrested on U.S. Highway 56 in Osage County when stop sticks punctured the tires.

Earlier Friday, KHP Technical Trooper Kristian J. Keberlein explained to jurors the process of examining the 2002 Chevy Silverado's airbag control module, which is similar to the black box investigators examine following a plane crash.

Trooper Kip Ballinger said taking into account the size of the tires on Morgan's truck, the module showed that 5 seconds before impact Morgan was traveling 40 mph. In those 5 seconds, Ballinger said Morgan accelerated to at least 51 mph. Keberlein testified that the information they retrieved from the truck also showed Morgan never touched the brakes and that she was accelerating at the time of impact.

Defense continues

Rork, who has tried about 40 murder trials as a defense attorney, said this case was unusual because drugs or alcohol are not alleged to be a factor. Prosecutors also don't allege Morgan's actions were intentional but reckless. But he said the fact that it's a traffic-related homicide trial doesn't make it different from a shooting or stabbing case.

"Any death is hard to defend because you just have the fact that there's a death," Rork said.

The challenge for the defense is to try to persuade jurors to consider the facts instead of finding sympathy with someone, he said.

Family members of Griffith and Korte have sat through tough moments of testimony, including autopsy photos on Friday and ones from the scene on Wednesday.

Griffith's family, including his wife, Melissa M. Griffith, and his father, Mark Griffith, visited a roadside memorial for the two men late Friday afternoon. Mark Griffith used a marker to trace his son's name to make it more visible.

Rork will continue presenting evidence Monday morning, and he is expected to call Sabrina Morgan to the stand to play a 911 call she made to Douglas County dispatchers.

Rork expects closing arguments to be sometime Monday.

Key players participating in hit-and-run trial


¢ David Melton - One of two chief assistant Douglas County District attorneys. He helped win a first-degree murder conviction earlier this year of Lafayette Cosby for shooting Robert Martin, after a state Supreme Court decision overturned a 2004 conviction.

¢ Eve Kemple - Formerly handled domestic violence cases in the district attorney's office, and she helped win a second-degree murder conviction of Christopher Belone in 2007 for beating his girlfriend.


¢ Billy Rork - A well-known Kansas defense attorney from Topeka with more than 30 years of experience. He specializes in criminal defense and traffic violation cases.


¢ Paula Martin - A Douglas County district judge first appointed in 1994. She presided in the 2007 murder trial of Rashawn Anderson, who was convicted of second-degree murder for shooting and killing Robert Williams, and Martin sentenced him to serve more than 15 years in prison.The Kansas Commission on Judicial Performance has recommended that Martin be retained in the November election.


¢ Ramona Morgan - A 49-year-old Washington state woman accused of running over and killing two construction workers south of Lawrence on Sept. 11, 2007. An Osage County jury has convicted her of fleeing from law enforcement in a chase after the alleged Douglas County events.


¢ Dustrol, Inc. construction crew - Multiple workers have testified that Morgan's truck drove twice through the construction zone, and at least three have identified her as the driver.

¢ Sabrina Morgan - Ramona's daughter, who was in the truck as a passenger, said her mother was worried that people were chasing them as they drove through Missouri and Kansas.

¢ Todd Brooks - A trooper with the Kansas Highway Patrol testified Thursday that he stopped Ramona Morgan near Scranton, Kan., more than 25 miles from the scene of the accident. Brooks said Tyrone Korte's cell phone was found stuck in the grill of the truck.

¢ Karen Oyerly - A Kansas Bureau of Investigation forensic scientist testified Friday that DNA of Korte and Griffith were found on Ramona Morgan's truck.

¢ Kristian J. Keberlein and Kip Ballinger - Technical troopers with the Kansas Highway Patrol determined Morgan was driving more than 50 mph when she struck the two workers.

They testified Morgan never touched the brakes and was accelerating at the point of impact, throwing the workers more than 115 feet down the highway.


Thinking_Out_Loud 9 years, 7 months ago

autie, et al, perhaps we let the jury decide guilt. There's a process here for a reason, you know...a due process. May take awhile to work through, but also prevents the government from summarily curtailing our freedom. Comes from a series of little-known documents called "Constitution" and "Bill of Rights."

Bob Forer 9 years, 7 months ago

"On cross-examination from Defense Attorney Billy Rork, Oyerly also testified that tests performed on Morgan shortly after she was taken into custody showed she had no alcohol in her system." Bad move, Ms. Prosecutor. Any criminal attorney--defense or prosecution--worth his salt will tell you that evidence that is not necessarily helpful to your case should be revealed in direct examination. By allowing the defense attorney to "uncover" this mostly irrelevant piece of evidence in cross-examination, you allowed the defendant to steal a little illusory thunder and suggest that the State is trying to hide something. Come on, I thought Douglas County prosecutors were better than this.

dozer 9 years, 7 months ago

Syscho - I fail to see your point. You say the prosecutor should reveal facts not helpful to their case. The lady had no alcohol in her system, how does that hurt the State? If anything, that hurts her case.

Bob Forer 9 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, Autie, I have to admit it was probably slightly sarcastic and satarical. And by the way, you responded to the wrong post of mine regarding a different news topic. No need to be ashamed. It happens to the best of us. But I am a little curious because you alleged racist comment was deleted before I could read it. In all honesty, I think words like "racist," "sexist" "ignorant" and the many other labels and perjorative epithets which we hurl at each other are very often presumptous and incorrect. All of us are guilty of the ocassional stupid mistake and/or otherwise, will, from time-to-time stick our foot in our mouths. Anyone who claims to have never said anything patently stupid is no different than the teenage boy who claims to never have masturbated. They're both liars. On the other hand, a small minority of us are either unmitigated racists, unreconsitututed sexists, or otherwise severely bigoted. And its usually impossible, based on one isolated statement, to conclude whether one is an abject bigot, or, instead, needs a little help removing foot from mouth.

Chris Ogle 9 years, 7 months ago

Let us never forget two good people are dead. I just don't buy the story that she didn't know she hit those people. They landed 70 feet in front of her, after killing them, then she left without stopping.

igby 9 years, 7 months ago

Why was she being chased?Lol.Who would have reason to chase her unless she ran over someone else in another state the day before and was running from the cops there.

Bob Forer 9 years, 7 months ago

Actually, the Matlock character is styled after a somewhat prominent Atlanta criminal defense attorney named Bobby Lee Cook. I don't know if he is still practicing, or for that matter, still alive, but many many years ago while serving as a Kansas Public Defender, I attended a two week at Mercer College in Macon, Georgia sponsored by the National Criminal Defense College. Bobby Lee Cook was one of the many superlative defense attorneys on the faculty. Not only was I in in awe dring most of Mr. Cook's presentation, but I learned a lot about trial tactics. So don't thank Matlock. Thank Bobby Lee Cook.

S0uPnAzi 9 years, 7 months ago

The only thing the State is trying to hide, is Ramona Morgan....away in jail, where she belongs. I can't imagine any rational, normal, sane person doing what she did, and only be able to come up with a defense of, "I thought I was being chased". Maybe the hat her daughter should have put on her is made of tin foil, so that those brainwaves from an alien race couldn't get through to her. This is just sad....put her sorry @ss away for good!

8ball 9 years, 7 months ago

well if they cant charge that truck driver for killing that motorcyclist,how can they possibly charge this woman?

Bob Forer 9 years, 7 months ago

Autie, tried to respond to your pm via pm, but kinda got carried away on the word processor and like your typical lawyer, became a little long winded. The pms are limited to 3000 words each. I broke it up into three, and still had some leftover, but I just discovered you can only send 3 pms within x amount of minutes. Hope the paignation was proper. Anyway, I saved the last part and will try to remember to dispatch it later. And dozer, my point was probably not very artfully stated, since there is a lot of nuance to it, and its hard for so=called specialists (read "lawyers) to expalin things in straight forward layman's terms. Would love to clairfy, but have been blogging too long today, and need to do something constructive. May try again later to attempt to clarif0y.

bluerose 9 years, 7 months ago

anger - sleepiness - paranoianone of those "excuses" are good enough. i hope the jury doesn't fall for it.she's a sick puppy, but she needs to be held accountable. lock her up.for a long long time please...

BBFantastic 9 years, 7 months ago

Sounds like she's just plain crazy. Not in the sense of legal insanity, but come on.A bunch of conspiracy theories, people chasing her all over the place??She killed 2 people, period.

dozer 9 years, 7 months ago

Sycho - Can't explain because of the nuances? I thought you were a Public Defender, didn't that involve breaking down your argument into simple points? Any prosecutor or defense attorney worth their salt knows you have to do that for a jury.

Alia Ahmed 9 years, 7 months ago

Seems like there is litle doubt that she drove the pickup that killed these two workers and sounds like she has a delusional disorder of some type. I don't think there is this option in Kansas, but a verdict of guilty, but insane might make sense in this type of situation. Most reasonable people would agree she is guilty, based on the evidence presented. I don't know if guilty, but insane would or should change the length of time she serves, but I think she would perhaps get treatment for her disorder and actually be more cognizant of the pain and suffering she has caused to the families and friends of her victims.

Rabbitgoesthump 9 years, 7 months ago

I have a pet rabbit and he was in his cage thumping is foot one night...

Rabbitgoesthump 9 years, 7 months ago

who carries 100,000 dollars on them to buy farm they have never seen?This meth head ramona had alot of time to sit in her cell and think of stories to make her look not so guilty.You hit two people then fled to osage county...

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