VERDICT: Judge finds Springfield man guilty of murder in deadly crash following pursuit

Published: Jan. 23, 2020 at 9:20 AM CST
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A Greene County judge found a Springfield man guilty of second-degree murder in a deadly crash after a pursuit through busy streets of Springfield.

Tommy Morris, Jr. opted for a bench trial. Judge Michael Cordonnier will sentence Morris on March 27.

Police say in April of 2018, he escaped a pursuit and kept driving. He then crashed into the car of Dana Sowards, 31, at Scenic and Mount Vernon streets in Springfield. The impact killed Sowards at the scene. She was a mother of two young kids, ages five and eight. Police had stopped the pursuit when the crash happened.

"I hope he never gets back out on the streets to do this to somebody else's family because it's devastating," said Dustin Sowards, Dana's husband after the verdict was delivered.

He said he struggles to with his loss every day.

"It's like coming out of the womb and learning how to breathe and then learning how to walk and then learning how to pursue anything. The walk of life period. It's un-explainable really," he said.

Dustin Sowards worries most about the couple's two young children.

"This world has nothing that could tear them down if they can go through this. They keep me strong. They keep us going. They're heroes," he said.

Prosecutors argued Morris was believed to be high on drugs, and had meth on him. Police say they caught him in a drug deal in the nearby Price Cutter parking lot, before the pursuit began. Prosecutor Stephanie Wan focused on a phone call from Morris to his wife, saying he was fleeing from police to get rid of the drugs he had and because he had a warrant.

Wan argued it does not matter what he intended to do pertaining to Sowards, instead, he put his wants despite the dangers ahead of public safety.

Defense attorney Christopher Hatley in closing arguments said the state did not prove its case. He says no one saw him with drugs or selling drugs and police stopped the pursuit. Hatley argued Morris admitted to driving recklessly, but it only qualifies him for involuntary manslaughter not murder. He stated the crash reconstruction supports the fact Morris tried to stop. He says only later did Morris admit to selling drugs and running from officers. Hatley argued the prosecution is stretching the law allowing for felony murder, a killing committed during the commission of a violent felony crime.

Prosecutors charged Morris with attempting to deliver a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. Judge Cordonnier also found him guilty on those charges.

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