Farris Morris was sentenced to death by the State of Tennessee for two murders. According to court documents Farris Morris would force his way into a neighbors home where he would shoot and kill a man and his niece and sexually assault the victim’s wife. Farris Morris would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death
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Charles and Angela Ragland lived in a duplex residence in Jackson, Tennessee. The defendant, Farris Morris, lived with his wife in the adjoining residence.
In the early morning hours of September 17, 1994, Angela Ragland arrived at her home along with her 15-year-old cousin, Erica Hurd. Charles Ragland was awake in the bedroom with the light on. Shortly after arriving, Erica went outside to retrieve something from the car. When Erica came back into the house, Angela heard a scream and saw that Morris was holding a shotgun to Erica’s head.
Farris Morris pushed Erica onto the bed in the Raglands’ bedroom and asked Charles “where the dope was.” Charles Ragland replied that he “didn’t have any” and asked Morris if he wanted money.4 After Morris responded that he would “find it himself,” Morris fired a shot into the floor and ordered Charles Ragland to get on the floor. He placed a pillow on Ragland’s head and shot him one time in the head.
Farris Morris ordered Erica to get into a closet by threatening to “blow her head off.” He forced Angela into another bedroom, tied her wrists and ankles, and covered the window with a mattress so that “nobody could see if they walked by.” Morris then retrieved Erica from the closet. Angela Ragland testified that she heard Erica pleading for Morris not to kill her and that she heard Morris say “shut up.” She testified that she heard Erica screaming and gasping for breath, and then silence.
Farris Morris returned to the bedroom and, still holding the shotgun, forced Angela Ragland to bathe him. Afterward he ordered Angela to put on a negligee and make him something to eat, which she did. Morris then forced Angela to have sexual intercourse with him “three or four times” and to perform oral sex upon him. Morris told her that he had once been “accused of raping someone and ․ if he was going to jail, he was going to go to jail for doing something.” He told Angela that “society made him the way he was” and “was the reason that he was doing what he did.”
Around 6:30 a.m., Morris heard his wife in the adjoining residence and told Angela that he would let her go. He instructed her to tell police that she found the bodies of her husband and cousin when she arrived home that morning. Morris used a cloth to wipe off objects he had touched and he warned Angela not to go to the police. Angela fled to the house of a nearby friend, who drove her to the police station. The police found Morris at his home shortly thereafter and arrested him.
The bodies of Charles Ragland and Erica Hurd were later discovered in the Ragland residence. Charles Ragland had been shot in the head. Erica Hurd had been beaten and stabbed repeatedly. A blood-stained steak knife was found behind a couch and a large butcher knife with traces of blood was found in a chair in the living room. Angela Ragland testified that neither knife belonged to her or her husband. A 12-gauge pistol grip, pump action shotgun was later found underneath Morris’s dresser drawer.
After being advised of and waiving his constitutional rights, Farris Morris gave a statement to Officers Patrick Willis and James Golden of the Jackson Police Department.5 Morris said that on the day of the offense he had purchased and smoked $250 worth of cocaine. He admitted that he had an exchange with Charles Ragland at 1:00 a.m., just a few hours prior to the murders, in which he asked Ragland to sell him drugs and, when Ragland declined, told Ragland that “he was going to regret disrespecting me.” Morris admitted that he went to his house, got his shotgun, loaded two shells into the shotgun, and waited for Ragland’s wife, Angela, to get home. Morris admitted that he entered the Ragland’s residence with the shotgun and demanded that Charles Ragland sell him drugs. He admitted that after Ragland said he didn’t have any drugs, he fired a shot into the floor, put a pillow over the barrel of the gun and shot him in the head. Morris admitted that he put Erica Hurd in a closet and tied up Angela Ragland. Morris told officers that he intended only to tie up Erica Hurd but that he stabbed her because she acted crazy and they struggled over a knife. Morris admitted he had sexual intercourse and oral sex with Angela Ragland.
Dr. O.C. Smith, the Deputy Chief Medical Examiner for West Tennessee, testified that Charles Ragland died from a shotgun wound to the head. Dr. Smith testified that he found evidence of an “intermediate target” between the weapon and Ragland’s head, but that Ragland’s death was “instantaneous because the brain [was] destroyed.”
Dr. Smith testified that Erica Hurd had died as a result of multiple injuries including, stab wounds, blunt trauma to the head, skull fractures, and damage to the brain. Dr. Smith found that there were 37 stab wounds, 23 of which were sustained prior to death and 14 of which were post-mortem. Dr. Smith testified that 25 of the stab wounds were to the victim’s neck and face and that the force of the stabbings was great enough to cause the knife blades to bend upon striking bone.
The defense theory focused on Morris’s use of crack cocaine. In addition to Morris’s own statement to police, Russell Morris, the defendant’s brother, testified that he saw the defendant smoking crack around 5:15 p.m. on the evening before the murders.
Dr. Robert Parker, a doctor of pharmacology at the University of Tennessee, testified about the effects of crack cocaine use. Parker testified that smoking crack cocaine produces an intense euphoria and symptoms such as excitability, paranoia, mania, and impaired judgment. Parker testified that most users of crack cocaine go on a “cocaine run” or “binge.” When users become unable to duplicate the feeling of euphoria from the initial uses of the drug, judgment is further impaired and there is “an increased risk of violent or homicidal behavior.” Parker explained that an acute withdrawal or “crash phase” occurs when the drug is not used. It can be marked by depression, exhaustion, paranoia, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Parker testified that the evidence of Morris’s behavior was “consistent with the ingestion of cocaine.”
Dr. William Bernet, medical director of the Psychiatric Hospital at Vanderbilt University, testified that he evaluated Morris based on an interview and a review of various records and documents. Dr. Bernet concluded that due to false accusations of rape prior to these offenses, Morris became suicidal and a crack cocaine user. Dr. Bernet stated that the mental stress and use of crack cocaine “affected [Morris’s] judgment” and “may have prevented him from forming the intent” to commit the murders of Charles Ragland and Erica Hurd.
The jury convicted Farris Morris of two counts of premeditated first degree murder and one count of aggravated rape.