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Morris defense presents witnesses

BY Kaitlin Gebby - kgebby@chronicle-tribune.com

The defense in a trial against former VA Nurse Scott Morris presented its witnesses on Wednesday, the second day of his criminal trial.

In 2014, Morris was arrested on a warrant for criminal deviate conduct regarding an alleged sexual assault incident involving a veteran at the Marion VA Hospital. He was tried in 2016, but the jury could not reach a verdict. A new jury was selected on Monday for his retrial, where he is represented by private attorney Antonio Sisson, of Muncie. Morris is being charged with criminal deviate misconduct, a class B Felony.

On Nov. 19, 2013, VA Nurse Jennifer Brumley was working the night shift in the dementia ward with Morris and other aids as they helped get the veterans into bed during a scheduled power outage. She noticed Morris was inside one patient’s room with the door closed for a long time, and stated a dressing change took 10 minutes at the most. She added that the patient he was working with was very compliant, with the cognitive ability of a toddler.

She entered the room to check on Morris and testified on Tuesday that she saw Morris performing oral sex on the patient. She told other staff members and her supervisor, which launched an investigation with the veteran’s administration and VA Special Agent Ray Vasil.

Retired VA Nurse Jerry Dillard was one of the first co-workers Brumley spoke to that night. Before accompanying Brumley to the nurse on duty, she herself went to check on the victim and to find Morris.

She said she opened the door and called out to the victim, who mimicked back what she said due to the low cognitive function caused by his dementia. He stepped out from behind the hospital curtain that was now obstructing her view of the bed. As he shuffled toward her, she recalled him adjusting his pants and his pajamas being open and unbuttoned. And as he walked, she saw Morris come out from behind the curtain briefly before turning away. She led the victim out of the room, and then Morris left and walked away from them quickly without saying a word.

The next morning, Vasil traveled from where he was stationed near Chicago to investigate the matter. On Wednesday, he testified before the jury and said VA detectives collected the victim’s bed sheets and had a rape kit performed to gather potential DNA evidence. The photographs presented in the courtroom in an attempt to demonstrate the lighting at the time were taken a week ago, according to Vasil, and no photo evidence of the alleged crime scene was collected.

Other witnesses presented by the defense were questioned on the amount of lighting in the dementia ward that night, and about the routines maintained for the patients.

Morris’ girlfriend, Darcy Baxter, also testified. Baxter is a current employee of the VA and a registered nurse in the rehab unit. They had worked together at the time of the incident, and she said she hasn’t returned to work in the dementia unit since. She explained that Morris suffered from “extreme coughing fits” before going on an inhaler. She said the fits would often occur during work, but he’d try his best to cover his mouth. In the previous trial, his coughing was the explanation given for the DNA evidence collected from the victim’s genitals matching that of Morris.

Grant County Prosecutor Jim Luttrull performed a cross examination with Baxter, asking if Morris often tried to cover his mouth when coughing and whether he frequently coughed on her or other patients. She explained that he’d try to cover his mouth, but “he didn’t always make it in time.”

Other nurses explained that due to the incontinence of patients at the VA, they would avoid having their face near their genitals to avoid contamination. For patient and nurse safety, one VA nurse said they “treat every patient like they have a bloodborne pathogen.”

In Sisson’s opening statements on Tuesday, he said the jury can expect a testimony from Morris to explain his side of the story. The case is expected to conclude on Thursday.