By Adam Smith
The North Jefferson News
A dark chapter in the history of Morris closed over the weekend.
John Ashley, 22, was convicted by a jury of capital murder in the drug-related shooting deaths of 19-year-old Tyler Carter and 18-year-old Alexander Lee.
The murders happened on Oct. 6, 2005.
Ashley, who claimed the shootings were in self-defense, shot the teens in the driveway of the home of his mother, Monica Ashley, at 1301 Stratford Court in Morris.
Prosectors in the case reportedly claimed the teens were lured to the home and shot after Ashley attempted to rob them.
In March, a jury acquitted Carley Taylor of capital murder charges stemming from the incident, but she was convicted of two counts of felony murder.
“We never expected anything like this,” said Morris Police Chief Mike Mitchell in an Oct. 13, 2005, story published in The North Jefferson News. “We’ve had your typical teenage calls about that house. You never think anything like this could happen in that kind of neighborhood. It just shows you that no area is safe from drugs.”
Morris Police Chief Brian Cochran, an officer with the Warrior Police Department when the murders occurred, said he assisted the Morris Police Department at the scene.
“It was a horrific scene,” Cochran said. “I was glad to see the jury found both defendants guilty.”
He said he supported the death penalty in capital murder cases. Sentencing dates for Ashley and Taylor have not been set.
Sgt. Randy Christian of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said it was a night that should have never happened.
He said the lives of four young people were lost — the two victims and the two who were found guilty of the crime.
“If there were e very a story that could be used to deter people from drugs, this should be it,” Christian said. “I hope there are parents out there that will use it as a an example of how everything can change in the blink of an eye.”
In the years following the shooting, the police department initiated abatement procedures on the home where the shootings took place. Neighbors feared drug activity was taking place at the home.
Cochran said the owner of the home cooperated with police and residents on the matter. The five-bedroom home is now on the market for $499,000.
Morris Mayor Craig Drummonds said the murders were a “sad situation” for his city. And although he described the incident as an isolated incident, it made residents in the city more aware of their surroundings.
“There was shock and disbelief,” he said of his reaction to the crime. “You don’t expect something like that to happen, and once people recognize the ages of everyone involved, you hate to see teenagers lose their life.”
He said he was proud of the way the police and fire departments worked together at the scene and with other municipalities.
The murders also brought about a change in the police department. Only one officer, Sgt. James Geeslin, was on duty that evening. Drummonds said the incident led the department to now have two officers working evening shifts. He said the city has luckily not had a murder investigation since that time.
“It’s a quiet city,” he said. “We try to work hard to keep the criminal element from coming in.”
By Adam Smith