Monday, January 21, 2013

Dickson, TN: Morris Long admits using hammer in wife's death, investigators say

A Dickson man charged with killing his wife said a drug-induced state prompted him to repeatedly strike her with a hammer following a verbal altercation, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Morris Long, 23, who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Ashlee Long, appeared Friday in Dickson Municipal Court for a preliminary hearing on the charge. A special judge bound the case over to the grand jury. The next grand jury will convene in February and possibly hear Long’s case. If the grand jury indicts Long, he would go to trial in Dickson County Circuit Court.
Ashlee Long’s mother and stepfather, Abigail and Kip Needham found her deceased in her bed Dec. 22 morning at her Bishop Lane residence in Dickson, according to the TBI. Investigators said she was killed between Dec. 20-22.
Ashlee Long, 21, was the mother of two children with Morris Long.
The morning after Ashlee Long was found dead, Morris Long parked his vehicle near the McCrory Lane exit on Interstate 40 eastbound, then stepped into oncoming interstate traffic. He was hit by a tractor trailer, and treated at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

Morris Long was arrested Jan. 9 by the TBI after being discharged from the hospital.
District Attorney General Dan Alsobrooks requested TBI investigate Long’s death. Ashlee Long’s father, Pat Martin, is a Dickson police officer.

The TBI worked the case with the Dickson Police Department.

Court hearing

In court, TBI investigators described Ashlee Long’s condition when found and reviewed two statements Morris Long provided TBI agents during interviews in his hospital room.

Morris Long appeared in court with a left leg fractured in many locations, and can’t walk.

Public Defender Jake Lockert is representing Morris Long. Lockert declined to comment on the case, but said he’ll seek a motion to transport Long to a special needs medical care center under the Tennessee Department of Correction. Long was denied bail and will remain in Dickson County Jail until his grand jury hearing.

A TBI spokesperson reported Ashlee Long’s death came under investigation as a homicide after a preliminary autopsy determined cause of death from blunt force trauma.

Dickson Judge J. Reese Holley recused himself from the hearing because of a conflict of interest. Johnsonville Municipal Court Judge Joey Hornick presided over the hearing.

Assistant District Attorney Ray Crouch will prosecute the case. He called two witnesses, TBI agents Shawn Adkins and Haidy Grigsby who investigated the crime scene inside the home and interviewed Long in the hospital. Grigsby drafted statements recounting Ashlee Long’s death, as dictated and signed by Long while he recovered in the Vanderbilt trauma unit.

Hospital interviews

In both statements, Long described hitting Ashlee in the head with a hammer.

Grigsby recorded the first statement Dec. 24, and the second statement on Dec. 29.

Long told Grigsby during the second statement that he struck Ashlee in the head with a hammer more than once during a verbal argument. Long said he was affected at the time by drugs, specifically cocaine, and claimed Ashlee swung scissors at him.

Grigsby said Long requested to speak with her; he voluntarily offered the statements; and signed both copies drafted by Grigsby without making changes to her dictation.

Long was not in custody during the two interviews, and Grigsby did not inform him of his Miranda rights. Grigsby testified she didn’t read him his rights since he wasn’t in custody

Lockert argued Long was under the influence of morphine and painkillers during his hospital stay. Grigsby was not aware he was on painkillers, and didn’t know if he was in a post-concussion state during their interviews. She conferred with a nurse, however, who allegedly reported Long could have a conversation. Grigsby determined Long was coherent from his answers to questions about place, time and his life. He was not sedated, Grigsby testified.

Grigsby first attempted to speak with Long Dec. 22 after his admission at VUMC, but he was in surgery. Vanderbilt police informed her Long was not allowed to see his family because he was being held in custody in his hospital room, with Metro police guarding him. He was not in custody, however, and there were no charges against him at that time. The guards were dismissed.

Long was not chained or handcuffed during his two interviews with Grigsby. She noted he was the main suspect in Ashlee’s death, but acknowledged Morris wasn’t able to walk out of interviews. The interviews weren’t recorded electronically at Grigsby’s discretion. Only Grigsby and Long were present during the Dec. 24 interview, aside from an occasional check-in by a nurse. Another TBI agent accompanied Grigsby during the Dec. 29 interview. Grigsby said she did not offer to help Long if he cooperated.

Investigators' testimony

Adkins investigated the Longs’ home Dec. 22. He found a bloody hammer next to the bed where the victim’s family found her.

Adkins noted the residence consists of two apartments divided between front and back sections. The Longs lived in the front apartment; the Needhams in the rear section. Adkins reported the victim was face down, covered in blankets and comforters in a back bedroom.

Adkins described a large amount of blood on Ashlee’s clothes and on the bed headboard and wall.

Investigators lifted the mattress and box spring, and Adkins found a hammer between a wall and the bed. He confiscated the hammer, bedding and a cell phone left on a counter.

Adkins testified the Longs didn’t have a history of domestic disturbances besides “average arguments.” There was no indication of drug or alcohol use at the home. Grigsby testified the Longs were a private couple, and there was no indication Morris had injured Ashlee before the incident.

Adkins noted Long’s vehicle was a second crime scene, and Metro police found it on the side of a road in Nashville. Adkins said that was the only vehicle the couple used at the time of the incident, and he requested Grigsby handle that scene.

Adkins said latex gloves with blood were located in the back of the vehicle. The vehicle was towed to the TBI Crime Lab where it’s still being processed.

Long's statements

In his first statement to Grigsby, Long said the night of the incident Ashlee kept “nagging him about everything” and talking bad about his mother. He said he had smoked weed.

He said Ashlee came at him with a hammer in the vicinity of a bathroom, and Long pushed her down by the sink. Long said he then went outside to clear his head, came back inside and she still was “nagging” and “cursing.” She went at him with the hammer again, but he caught it, wrenched it from her and hit her in the head, Long said. She cried and got it back and swung it at him, he said, but he took it from her and hit her in the head again. Long said he finally stopped and prayed, then got in the truck and just drove.

During the second statement, Grigsby said she followed up with Long on inconsistencies and holes in his initial first statement. This time Long said he had used cocaine, hid a wallet in the dirty laundry and went to Walmart for toys while Ashlee went to another store. By then he had used 2-3 grams of coke, he said.

Long said Ashlee knew he was stoned and that the wallet was hidden, but she was “OK” with it missing.

Long said they were playing around and Ashlee then pushed him away and got mad. She had scissors on the bed, he said, and started swinging them.

Long said he was wrong in the first statement: Ashlee did not have the hammer. He said he hung pictures earlier that day, and the hammer was on the floor. He hit her on the top of the head and she fell face down, he said, adding that she leaned up and he hit her again. He said the cocaine fueled his behavior. He said he then got in his truck and “went everywhere” and also called his sister and uncle.

Grigsby requested Long’s medical records after the Dec. 29 interview, but didn’t look at his blood work and was not aware if he had drugs in his system when admitted to hospital, or if a blood sample was taken. She did not ask for a sample.

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