State lawyer calls Barry Morphew prosecution a “debacle” as disciplinary hearing starts for district attorney

A two-week disciplinary hearing opened Monday for 11th Judicial District Attorney Linda Stanley, the Colorado prosecutor accused of violating professional rules for attorneys when she prosecuted Barry Morphew in the 2020 murder of his wife.

Stanley, the sitting elected district attorney for Chaffee, Custer, Fremont and Park counties, could lose her license to practice law if Presiding Disciplinary Judge Bryon Large and two hearing board members sustain the allegations of professional misconduct. They were levied against her by the state’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, the agency that disciplines Colorado attorneys for violating professional standards.

11th Judicial District Attorney Linda Stanley(handout photo)

Stanley is accused of making inappropriate comments to members of the media, failing to capably lead the district attorney’s office and attempting to retaliate against the judge presiding over the Morphew case. State authorities allege that she launched a baseless investigation into the judge’s personal life after a string of unfavorable rulings.

It is highly unusual for a disciplinary case against a sitting elected district attorney to proceed to a public hearing.

Morphew was charged with murder in 2021, a year after his wife, Suzanne Morphew, 49, disappeared from the family’s Chaffee County home on May 10, 2020. Stanley dropped all charges against Morphew in 2022. He has maintained his innocence and is not facing any charges in connection with his wife’s death.

Investigators in September discovered Suzanne Morphew’s body in a shallow grave near Moffat, and a coroner later determined her death to be a homicide, finding she died with a cocktail of animal tranquilizers in her body.

The investigation into Suzanne’s killing is now being handled by 12th Judicial District Attorney Anne Kelly, since her body was found in that jurisdiction. When Stanley prosecuted Barry Morphew in 2021 and 2022, his wife’s body had not been found.

Stanley mishandled the prosecution so severely that she was forced to drop all charges against Morphew in 2022, said Jonathan Blasewitz, an attorney for the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, during an opening statement in court Monday. He called the prosecution a “debacle” that was left in “shambles.”

“This case is about a ship with a captain who never manned the bridge,” Blasewitz said. “Instead of navigating the ship and keeping it on course, the captain was engaged with unethical commentary with members of the media … and the ship that crashed was a first-degree murder case.”

During the trial-like disciplinary hearing at the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse in downtown Denver, attorneys for the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel are presenting evidence and witness testimony to support the allegations against Stanley. Her attorney, Steve Jensen, is working to defend her.

The evidence will be weighed by a panel of three: Large, Glenwood Springs attorney Sherry Caloia and Melinda Harper, a member of the public. If the board sustains the allegations, it then will determine the sanction, up to disbarment.

Stanley’s defense attorney, Steve Jensen, argued during his opening statement Monday that Stanley’s comments to the media about the Morphew case were innocuous and that she wasn’t a bad leader, but rather did the best she could in a judicial district with very limited staffing and resources. He said the inquiry into the judge was not used to retaliate against him.

The Morphew prosecution was Stanley’s first-ever homicide prosecution in her career, Jensen said.

“She did not neglect her duties,” Jensen said. “She did not lack due diligence. … She provided adequate supervision. There is no basis for those charges.”

Jensen added that an interview that Stanley gave to a Colorado Springs TV news station — which accounts for two of the seven allegations against her — was supposed to be considered “off-the-record.” Stanley believed her comments would not be aired on TV, he said, even though she was wearing a microphone and being recorded.

“The evidence is going to be overwhelming that she emphatically believed this was an off-the-record conversation,” Jensen said.

The two-week hearing is expected to include testimony from John Suthers, a former Colorado attorney general and U.S. attorney for Colorado; former Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett; multiple prosecutors who worked on the Morphew case; and former 11th Judicial District Judge Ramsey Lama, who presided over the case.

The first witness called Monday was attorney Jeff Lindsey, who was initially the lead prosecutor on the Morphew case.

The small district attorney’s office was overwhelmed by the scope and scale of the investigation into Morphew, Lindsey testified, and he could not handle all of the work alone.

He frequently asked for additional help, but Stanley never provided it, he said, and there was never a full-time prosecutor assigned to the Morphew case. Lindsey was responsible for both the Morphew case and a full felony docket after Morphew’s arrest, he testified.

Related Articles

Colorado News |

Suzanne Morphew died by homicide with cocktail of animal tranquilizers in her system, coroner rules

Colorado News |

DA pursued baseless investigation into judge after unfavorable rulings in Barry Morphew case, state authorities allege

Colorado News |

Colorado judge sanctions DA Linda Stanley’s office over pattern of widespread discovery violations

Colorado News |

DA drops murder charges against Barry Morphew after judge blocks most of prosecution’s expert witnesses

Colorado News |

Here’s what Barry Morphew told investigators about his tranquilizer gun

Stanley was frequently out of the office, was not quick to respond to emails and was “hard to find,” Lindsey testified. He left the job after a few months, resigning because he “physically and mentally could not keep up.”

“I told her I couldn’t do it anymore,” he said, describing a meeting with Stanley. “… She said, ‘It sounds like you are trying to get off a sinking ship.’ ”

On cross-examination, Jensen sought to show Stanley properly supported Lindsey and that his workload was not without precedent. Lindsey acknowledged that Stanley at times met weekly to discuss the Morphew case, that she at one point hired an additional person to help prosecute it and that, before the preliminary hearing, she arranged for Lindsey to take a week away from his other work to focus on the case.

Stanley attended Monday’s disciplinary hearing in person and sat quietly at the defense table, at one point appearing to check emails on her laptop. Witness testimony will continue Monday afternoon.

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *