DENVER (AP) — Prosecutors on Tuesday dropped criminal charges against a Colorado man who was about to go on trial in the presumed death of his missing wife, but they left the door open to bringing new charges against him later.
The move follows Judge Ramsey Lama’s decision last month to bar prosecutors from presenting most of their key witnesses during Barry Morphew’s scheduled trial for repeatedly failing to follow rules for turning over evidence in his favor. The evidence included DNA from an unknown male linked to sexual assault cases in other states, which was found in Suzanne Morphew’s SUV, raising the possibility of another suspect being involved.
In a court filing, District Attorney Linda Stanley said the exclusion of the prosecution’s witnesses was one reason she asked Lama to allow prosecutors to drop the charges. But she emphasized that investigators need more time to find the body of Suzanne Morphew before Barry Morphew goes on trial, saying for the first time that investigators believe her body is located in an area covered deep in snow near their former home in the southern Colorado mountains. Prosecutors and law enforcement believe they are close to finding her, she said.
“The People were hopeful that the search for, and the discovery of, the victim’s body would be concluded well before trial, but weather has complicated the efforts,” Stanley wrote in the motion, which Lama later approved.
Suzanne Morphew’s siblings agree with the prosecution’s request to drop the charges, she said.
Barry Morphew pleaded for help finding Suzanne Morphew after she disappeared and was reported missing on Mother’s Day in 2020 but he was arrested and charged with murder and other crimes last year. He had pleaded not guilty and his trial had been set to begin April 28.
“These charges were false from the beginning,” one of Barry Morphew’s lawyers, Iris Eytan, said after a court hearing in the case Tuesday.
Eytan said there was no physical evidence linking Barry Morphew to the case and noted that prosecutors have never before said they needed to find Suzanne Morphew’s body in order to prosecute.
David Beller, an attorney with Recht Kornfeld PC, a Denver law firm, and a former president of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, said the prosecutors’ request showed they feared a jury could have acquitted Barry Morphew and was a last minute attempt by to save their case.
A not guilty verdict would have prevented the government from ever prosecuting him again since the Constitution bars people from being prosecuted for the same crime twice.
Even though prosecutors have the ability to file charges against Barry Morphew later, Beller did not think it was likely unless Suzanne Morphew’s body was found with some kind of evidence linking Barry Morphew to her death. He said other evidence supports his innocence.
“This is a relatively inexperienced prosecution team who brought charges in part based on community and political pressure,” he said.
This story has been corrected to say that the judge barred the prosecution witnesses last month, not earlier this month.