MADRAS, Ore. - A 21-year-old Crooked River Ranch man was sentenced Wednesday afternoon in a packed, tearful courtroom to two life prison terms without parole for the February 2016 shooting deaths of his two roommates. And as he has since that day, he maintained his silence about why he did it.
In a courtroom filled with the victims’ family and friends, Mitchell Julio Morris, 21, answered Jefferson County Circuit Judge Daniel Ahern’s questions with a yes or no. But he gave no statement when his chance came to address the judge and courtroom about what happened, why he shot longtime friends Bailee Southick, 19, and McKenzie Lyman, 21, three times each, or whether he wished to apologize or show any remorse for his actions.
According to District Attorney Steve Leriche, the three young people had moved from Dallas, Oregon together, and the two victims had helped Morris get a job and drove him where he needed to be.
Lyman’s father, mother and grandfather all tearfully spoke to the judge about the loss of their loved one, with the victim’s father calling Morris “the scum of the earth” and talking of how he will never be able to walk his daughter down the aisle and see her marry Southwick.
Morris, in chains, stared straight ahead, only turning his head to his lawyers. He had told police he was not arguing with his roommates before the killing.
Leriche said one victim’s body was found in the living room and another found at the entrance to a bedroom. No alcohol or illegal drugs were found in the house.
Ahern imposed two consecutive “true life” sentences, without possibility of parole, and ordered $10,000 in restitution to the victims’ families. Morris’s lawyers called it a just sentence.
Though Morris has offered no explanation for the murders, investigators determined he had planned the killings, Leriche said. Two hours earlier, he had gone online to Google, to search “how long does it take to die after being stabbed?” and “can a 7.5x54 go through two people?”
The murder weapon was a 7.5x54 rifle that Morris left at the scene when he packed a bag and fled in a pickup truck. He was arrested the next morning by police in the Salem area, after spending the night there area with friends who were unaware of the killings.
“In negotiating the case, the state considered Morris’ youth, lack of prior criminal history, mental health issues and wiliness to accept responsibility for his crimes,” Leriche said in a news release after the sentencing.
But there was another factor, as well: “The state also considered the state of Oregon’s ongoing refuse to execute offenders who have been sentenced to death, in spite of the will of the voters, the decision of the courts, and even the willingness of the defendants,” Leriche wrote, referring to the current and former governors’ refusal to impose the death penalty.
The DA said he also discussed the matter “with the mothers of both victims, who supported a recommendation for true-life sentences.”