SALIDA, Colo. — A Chaffee County judge found probable cause on Friday that Barry Morphew may have killed his wife, Suzanne, and set a May 2022 date for the trial.
Suzanne Morphew, 49, of Maysville, was last seen May 10, 2020. Despite an exhaustive search, her body has not been found.
Her husband was charged this past May with:
- First-degree murder
- Tampering with a deceased human body
- Tampering with physical evidence
- Possession of a dangerous weapon
- Attempt to influence a public servant
Chaffee County Judge Patrick Murphy held a four-day preliminary hearing last month, with a total of about 20 hours of testimony, to determine whether there was sufficient evidence for Barry Morphew to stand trial.
On Friday, Murphy found probable cause that Morphew might have murdered his wife and that he had motivation to do so. He also found probable cause on the other four charges.
Morphew pleaded not guilty and waived his right to a speedy trial.
The trial was set for May 3 through June 1, 2022.
Probable cause is the lowest standard of proof in the criminal justice system and is a lower standard than what's required for conviction, Murphy said.
"Is it possible Mr. Morphew would be convicted? Yes," Murphy said. "Is it fairly likely he would be convicted? ... This case could go either way in front of a jury."
He said there were three possible scenarios: Barry Morphew killed his wife, someone else killed her, or Suzanne Morphew left on her own.
The judge said that while he found probable cause that option No. 1 could have happened, option No. 2 was also possible due to DNA found in Suzanne Morphew's vehicle that was linked to sex assaults in Arizona and Illinois.
Because of that, the judge said the prosecution did not meet the high standard of evidence necessary to deny bail. He set Morphew's bail at $500,000, cash only.
On the third possibility, that Suzanne Morphew left on her own, Murphy implied that was unlikely.
The judge ordered Barry Morphew to not travel outside Chaffee County, to surrender his passport and to wear an ankle monitor. Morphew cannot post bond until noon Monday.
A motions hearing was set for 1:30 p.m. Nov. 9.
Over three and a half days of testimony last month, the Chaffee County District Attorney's Office questioned several witnesses and submitted dozens of pieces of evidence without laying out a specific narrative for what they think happened to Suzanne Morphew.
The arrest affidavit, which lays out the prosecution's case, has been sealed. On Friday, Murphy ordered that the affidavit be unsealed by noon Monday.
According to testimony, Suzanne Morphew had a two-year affair with Jeff Libler, a Michigan man who was told he was not a target of the investigation. Suzanne suspected that her husband was having an affair, but investigators haven't found evidence of that.
Suzanne sent her husband a text on May 6, four days before she was reported missing, that said, “I’m done.” She and Libler regularly communicated through LinkedIn, but no messages came from Suzanne after the afternoon of May 9, the day before she was reported missing, according to testimony.
In final arguments to the judge on Friday, the prosecution said Barry Morphew was the only person with motivation to kill Suzanne.
Jeff Lindsey, with the Chaffee County DA's Office, said that on the afternoon of May 9, Barry Morphew loaded a syringe for a tranquilizer dart, put his phone on airplane mode and then shot his wife with the dart. He then chased her around the house until the tranquilizer took effect, Lindsey said.
Morphew did not bring his phone out of airplane mode until seven and a half hours later, according to testimony. That would be ample time to dispose of a body, the judge said while issuing his ruling.
"This is a domestic violence homicide. That’s what the case is," Lindsey said. "It happened because Barry Morphew said marriage is for life."
The defense countered that the prosecution's case was based on supposition and conjecture -- that there was no physical evidence implicating Morphew, and no confession.
"The proof has to be clear and strong. This was anything but," defense attorney Sean Connelly said.
Days after Suzanne’s disappearance, law enforcement found a needle sheath in the dryer in the Morphews’ residence. The sheath would fit a needle used to inject serum into a tranquilizer dart. Barry told investigators he had no idea how it got there.
Lindsey called the sheath "a pivotal piece of evidence," while Connelly said there was no evidence tying the sheath to Barry Morphew.
Connelly listed several reasons why the case shouldn't go forward, including the unknown DNA found in Suzanne Morphew's vehicle and the prosecution's changing narrative on who accessed Suzanne's Facebook page and made friend requests to several men the day before she went missing.
At first, the prosecution theorized that Barry Morphew had hacked the Facebook account, Connelly said. On Friday, Lindsey said Suzanne made the friend requests after she told her husband she wanted a divorce.
As for the DNA in Suzanne Morphew's vehicle, the sample resulted in three unknown matches in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a national database used by law enforcement. The matches were connected to sexual assault cases in Arizona and Chicago, according to testimony.
After listening to final arguments from both sides, Murphy said the evidence shows Barry Morphew might have killed his wife and disposed of her body, and he might have been motivated by Suzanne's affair and her intention to divorce him.
Murphy also said a preliminary hearing is not a mini-trial, and that evidence to support a conviction wasn't necessary at this stage of the proceedings.
9NEWS's Matt Jablow and Jennifer Campbell-Hicks are in Salida for the proceedings.
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