Bad Apples

Is a teacher's effort to free two convicted killers a rush to bad judgment?

Hamilton says there is little chance a nonprofessional could do something harmful in a legal sense to an innocence investigation, but victims are at risk and so is the future reception of such efforts, which seem to be increasingly popular.

"If something goes wrong, one apple could spoil the whole bunch," she says. "If somebody does something wrong, it could reflect badly on not just our program but all programs of this type."


Ronnie Wilson, who was convicted of taking part in a burglary that resulted in three murders, is serving time in a Texas prison. He says he's innocent.
Ronnie Wilson, who was convicted of taking part in a burglary that resulted in three murders, is serving time in a Texas prison. He says he's innocent.
Brenda and Jerry Morgan with their toddler son, Devin, shown here shortly before they were murdered in their Longview home.
Brenda and Jerry Morgan with their toddler son, Devin, shown here shortly before they were murdered in their Longview home.

Jerry and Brenda Morgan lived in a mobile home in rural Gregg County northwest of Longview. The couple were popular with their large, extended families. Jerry was "kind of loud" and a "know-it-all" on first impression, but those who knew him found he was "softhearted and...would do anything anyone asked him to do," one family member says. Brenda was a homebody who liked to embroider and refurbish old furniture. Their 21-month-old son, Devin, was "all boy, full of just play and life."

On the morning of April 30, 1984, a Monday, Brenda Morgan went to a new job in a physical therapist's office. Jerry dropped his son off at his parents' house nearby and then went to his job as a plumber. Jerry clocked out of work at 5:30 p.m. Brenda Morgan left work at 6:05 p.m. They picked up Devin before 6:30. That night, a sister called them but got no answer.

The next morning, Jerry Morgan's parents waited for him to drop off Devin as usual, but he never showed up. They started to worry and then telephoned. No one answered.

After a while, family members drove to the trailer. They looked through Devin's bedroom window and saw Brenda and Jerry lying on the floor head to foot and Devin lying across Jerry's chest. They had been shot.

Frantic relatives flagged down Mike Owens, a meter reader who was working in the area. They told him to go check the trailer because "a whole family has been murdered."

Owens told the Longview News-Journal, "The whole room [Devin's bedroom] was a mess, but there was a big pool of blood in the hall, and it looked like they had been dragged from the hall into the bedroom. I checked the baby to make sure it was dead, and it was...I just made sure the baby wasn't alive and got out of there. It was pretty bad."

Jerry Morgan had been shot five times, Brenda Morgan was shot once in the back of the neck, and Devin Morgan was shot twice in the face. They had all been shot with .22-caliber bullets. None of them had any food in their stomachs, which to police meant they hadn't eaten dinner before they were killed. That was something that would be important to the defense later.

Two folded towels had been placed under Brenda Morgan's head, and she was in her bare feet. A bullet was found fired into the floor next to Jerry Morgan's head. Hairs with "negroid-type" characteristics, according to a description by a forensics expert, were found on the towels and in the living room.

The front door was damaged, and there were bloodstains on a baseboard and a trail of blood down the mobile home's narrow hallway leading to the boy's room. Some guns, a VCR, coffeemaker, lamp, alarm clock, some decorative brass butterflies and the Morgans' Pontiac Catalina were missing. One neighbor said she heard her dogs barking at something around 9:30 p.m. on the night of the murders. Another would testify that he saw what appeared to be an African-American man around the Morgan house that day and that there were "a bunch" of cars around the house. According to another witness, an African-American was driving the Morgans' car near their house on the evening of the murders. That would be just about all police would publicly say anybody saw or heard until about seven years later.

At first, the most promising lead was the Morgans' missing Pontiac, which police hoped would give them something the crime scene couldn't--physical evidence that would lead them to a suspect. On Wednesday morning the car turned up on a street near a hospital in Tyler. Police found baby clothes, some diapers and "smudges" from the car but no fingerprints or any other physical evidence. Police learned that on the night of the murders a Ford Silverado pickup had been stolen about a block away from the spot where police found the Catalina. On the chance that it was related, they launched a search.

Two days later, police in Grand Prairie found the Silverado. Two black men were in the truck. A "floating heart" pendant necklace was found in the possession of the men and was initially identified by Brenda Morgan's family as belonging to her, though family members later said the necklace wasn't hers after all. Police questioned the men but soon ruled them out as suspects in the murders.

Though police continued to follow leads and tips, the case quickly went cold. Or so they said. They told the public they had no motive, no leads and no suspects, but they did have at least one suspect. His name was Alvin Kelly, a known drug dealer and resident "badass" whom police felt was entirely capable of committing the killings.

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