Kenneth Leon Morrow, 61, will be formally sentenced Dec. 14 at 1 p.m. by Circuit Judge Bo Hollingsworth. Since the state agreed not to seek the death penalty in this case, life in prison without the possibility of parole is the only possible outcome. Morrow pleaded guilty to both counts, but in a capital case, even one where the death penalty is not an option, Alabama law requires the state to prove its case to a jury. The jury is allowed to consider the guilty plea as evidence.
Morrow was charged with killing Chuck Barnes by shooting him in the back nine times with a five-shot revolver. The murder took place in the home of Leigh Zajeski, who Morrow had dated previously and who was, in April 2007 when the killing took place, in a relationship with Barnes.
Morrow was married throughout his relationship with Zajeski. He said he was reluctant to get a divorce because his wife had health problems and needed his insurance.
Even though the romantic relationship between them was over, Morrow still cut Zajeski’s lawn, and had come to her house in Munford for that reason on the day of the murder. At the time of his arrest, he told law enforcement he had driven past the house several times at 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. and seen Barnes’ car, and he had been having headaches and was unable to sleep as a result.
Morrow knocked on the door and asked to speak to Zajeski. Barnes said she did not want to speak with him and attempted to shut the door.
By his own admission, Morrow forced open the front door and a fight ensued in the living room. He said when he saw Barnes moving toward the kitchen, where he believed there was a gun, he began shooting. He emptied the revolver, reloaded and continued firing.
Zajeski was at the other end of the house and ran toward the kitchen when she heard the shots. Morrow struck her on the head and face three or four times with the gun butt, causing injuries that required stitches. He then called his son and daughter-in-law, who were on the scene before Sheriff’s Department deputies.
Zajeski appeared to get confused on a few occasions during her testimony, claiming to have had memory problems since the assault four years ago.
Morrow released Zajeski when law enforcement arrived, but put the gun to his own head and threatened to commit suicide rather than go to jail. He eventually surrendered following a two and a half hour standoff.
“Obviously I’m pleased,” Talladega County District Attorney Steve Giddens said following the verdict. I’m very sorry for the Barnes family, but the jury did the right thing. The victim in this case really was an innocent victim.”
Giddens and Assistant District Attorney Christina Kilgore prosecuted the case.
Across the hall, another jury took about an hour to find Christal Gail Fisher, 32, guilty of theft of property in the second degree. Fisher and two men were charged with stealing 266 feet of copper wire valued at $563 from an Alabama Power substation on Jackson Trace Road. The copper was stolen from half a dozen sections, so ultimately Alabama Power had to replace more than 600 feet of wire, according to a witness.
Theft of property in the second degree is a Class C felony, punishable upon conviction by one year and one day to 10 years in prison.
Fisher had also sold scrap copper on previous occasions.
The defense argued that Fisher was actually fishing several hundred yards away in Chocolocco Creek. Prosecutor Jake Argo pointed out that there was only one fishing rod, which was dry, one lure, no tackle box and nothing to put the fish in if she caught anything.
Another jury, trying Thomas Griffith, 53, for the sexual abuse of a child under the age of 12, deadlocked after 3 hours of deliberation. The case will be put back on the docket and retried in the future, Argo said.
Griffith is accused of inappropriately touching a then 5-year-old girl on three different occasions.
Contact Chris Norwood at cnorwood@dailyhomecom.