Kenneth Leon Morrow, 61, pleaded guilty to the charges earlier this month, but as Circuit Judge Bo Hollingsworth explained to potential jurors, under Alabama law, the state must still prove it’s case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. His guilty plea is admissible as evidence.
The state is not seeking the death penalty in this case. If convicted, he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Morrow is charged with breaking into the home of his former girlfriend, Leigh Zajeski, and killing her new boyfriend, Chuck Barnes, shooting him a total of nine times in the back. In a statement to Talladega County District Attorney Investigator Mike McBurnett shortly after his arrest, Morrow stopped to reload at least twice.
He then struck Zajeski in the head with the gun butt, causing her to bleed but not seriously injuring her.
Morrow told McBurnett Zajeski had been his girlfriend for about 11 years. He was married throughout this time, and his wife was aware of the relationship, McBurnett testified Monday. They had considered divorce, but Morrow’s wife had health problems and he did not want to have to drop her from his insurance.
Morrow and Zajeski bought a house on Cedars Lane in Munford and lived there together until November 2006. At that point, according to the statement, Zajeski said she did not love Morrow anymore and wanted him to go back to his wife. He did move back into his wife’s house, but in a different room. He continued to make minor repairs at the house and cut the lawn, he said.
Although she denied it, Morrow suspected that Zajeski had a new boyfriend, and was suffering from headaches and insomnia as a result. He said he drove past the house in Munford on several occasions between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., and the same car was always there.
In fact, on the day of the killing, Morrow had come to Munford to cut the grass. He admitted in the statement he brought the gun with “in case anything happened.”
He knocked on the door and Barnes answered. Morrow said he had come to mow the lawn, but wanted to speak with Zajeski first. In his statement, Morrow said Barnes told him Zajeski did not want to speak with him and attempted to close the door. Morrow forced his way into the house and the two “scuffled” in the living room. He then saw Barnes heading toward the kitchen, where he knew Zajeski kept a gun, so he followed and shot him.
He initially told McBurnett the gun had “gone off” and admitted to firing four or five shots. According to District Attorney Steve Giddens, the actual number of shots fired was nine.
The two counts stem from facts that fit two different definitions of burglary in the first degree, which is the aggravating circumstance that makes this a capital case. Morrow forced his way into the house with the intent of committing a crime while carrying a gun and causing physical injury to two people in the commission of that crime.
When Talladega County Sheriff’s deputies arrived, Morrow was holding a gun to his own head and threatening to commit suicide if they came any closer. He eventually surrendered without further incident following a two and a half hour standoff.
Opening statements in this case are expected today with the trial likely going until Wednesday afternoon.
Across the hall, in Circuit Judge Julian King’s courtroom, two separate juries were also selected Monday.
The first is expected try Thomas Griffith, 53, for sexual abuse of a child less than 12, today. The second will try Christal Gail Fisher, 32, for theft of property in the second degree on Wednesday. Fisher is charged with stealing copper wire from Alabama Power.
Contact Chris Norwood at firstname.lastname@example.org.