Crime

Barry Morphew's Prosecution for Using Missing Wife's Ballot Was Harassment, Attorney Says

Barry Morphew, joined by his daughters and attorney Iris Eytan, after the murder case against him was dropped on April 19.
Barry Morphew, joined by his daughters and attorney Iris Eytan, after the murder case against him was dropped on April 19. 9News via YouTube
On April 19, the prosecution of Barry Morphew for the alleged murder of his missing wife, Suzanne Morphew, came to a screeching halt when a judge granted 11th Judicial District Attorney Linda Stanley's request for the case to be dismissed without prejudice — a distinction that allows for charges to be refiled. Stanley stated at the time that this move would give law enforcement authorities a chance to find Suzanne's body, thought to be in a remote location then covered in snow.

But Suzanne's remains have yet to be located; Stanley, who's still the 11th Judicial District DA despite having subsequently had her law license suspended for failing to comply with continuing legal education requirements, has not responded to Westword's request for an update on the search. Meanwhile, Barry Morphew pleaded guilty last week to forgery for turning in Suzanne's ballot in the 2020 election. The offense earned him a one-year deferred sentence.

Attorney Iris Eytan of Denver-based Eytan Nielsen LLC, who represents Morphew, doesn't dispute that her client erred in the way he cast his vote nearly two years ago. But she sees the pursuit of the case, which generated a new batch of headlines in Denver, where Morphew is moving, as an example of tremendously misplaced priorities on the part of Stanley and her office.

"It's my belief that this is continuing harassment of Mr. Morphew — both the forgery charge and the way they dismissed the case," Eytan says. "If it wasn't harassment, they should be getting out in front of the press and saying, 'Mr. Morphew is presumed innocent, and we don't want to wave suspicion over people who have not been charged and convicted of crimes. We ask that Mr. Morphew and his two daughters get the peace they deserve.' That's what they'd do if they weren't harassing Mr. Morphew. But they are harassing him."

Suzanne Morphew has not been seen since May 10, 2020, when she went for a bike ride in the Salida area of Chaffee County, where the couple lived; the case garnered national attention a year later, when Barry was charged with murder. The arrest affidavit in his name, made public the following September, was filled with specifics about Suzanne's alleged unhappiness with her marriage; Barry's obsession over her affair with an old high school friend, Jeff Libler; his tortured explanations regarding his activities on the day when investigators believe her life was taken; and his alleged view that her death was punishment for her unfaithfulness as meted out by God.

One excerpt reads: "Barry cannot provide a last sighting of Suzanne, only labored breathing similar to a snore, which is consistent with her being tranquilized. Barry describes her as being drunk that afternoon, which matches the effects of the tranquilizer after a few minutes. He says he is running around the house, most likely chasing Suzanne while she is conscious. Barry has admitted that he had taken Suzanne's phone from her at least twice in the past to try to monitor or control what she was doing. There is no phone activity for Suzanne after 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, which is out of the norm for her typical behavior and an abrupt end following her 59 communications with Jeff Libler that morning and afternoon. By around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday May 9th, it had become clear that Barry could not control Suzanne's insistence on leaving him and he resorted to something he had done his entire life — hunt and control Suzanne like he had hunted and controlled animals."
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Suzanne Morphew remains missing at this writing.
Family photo via CBS
Despite the content of this affidavit, the lead-up to Barry Morphew's trial was troubled. On February 9, Eytan and her co-counsel, Hollis Whitson of Denver's Samler and Whitson, PC, filed a supplement to a motion for sanctions that laid out reasons why the proceedings should be halted, many of them pertaining to information that hadn't been shared with the defense, including claims that two CBI agents saw charging Morphew as premature. Stanley fired back with a response that dubbed this contention "utter nonsense." But two months later, the DA asked for the case to be dismissed.

A document filed by Stanley offered this explanation: "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. Specifically, the area law enforcement has been focused on is in a remote and mountainous region nearby the Morphew residence. This area received a significant amount of snow over the winter months before a search could be completed. To date, the area has 5 feet of snow concealing the location where the People believe Ms. Morphew is located. As a result, the People cannot safely excavate this area and resolve this unanswered question."

This contention struck Eytan as dubious months ago, and her suspicions have only grown since then.

"Back then, the snow was supposedly so deep they couldn't conduct a search," she notes. "Now, with the world ablaze, I don't believe there's a single patch of snow that miraculously hasn't melted and is keeping them from finding a body that was buried in it. So the question I have for the prosecution is: 'If you were so closing to finding her, where is Suzanne?'"

She adds: "If you want to do right by Suzanne, and by Barry and his children, who are also victims, why do you file a paper saying, 'We're really close to finding her' and then you don't do anything about it? Or maybe you were wrong about being that close, or you think you're going to get close. But you don't leave the public waiting unless you want to continue keeping an aura of suspicion over a man who's presumed innocent of a crime."

Regarding the forgery case, Eyan emphasizes that "Barry didn't sign Suzanne's name on the ballot. He signed on the witness line of her ballot, because he believed he had legal guardianship, so he thought that would be okay. So he made a mistake. But you know what? The prosecution has made plenty of mistakes, and their mistakes have been much worse. They've intentionally withheld evidence of innocence, and they put Barry in a cell for five months, and nothing has happened to them. They didn't suffer any consequences. And then, instead of keeping the focus on finding Suzanne, where it should be, they prosecuted him for forgery."

As for Morphew's move to the Denver area, Eytan says, "He needs to make a living in order for him to support his daughters and himself after he has spent all his emotional and financial resources fighting for his innocence. He was forced to stay in Salida and Chaffee County for a year. The judge wouldn't let him leave the boundaries of the county, so he was in a situation where he was seen as a villain. He's reviled there as a killer. The prosecution made sure every single neighbor got a restraining order against him — even people he'd never even talked to. He can't reside there, so he needs to make a fresh start."

Eytan emphasizes that her client is "broken and grieving. This isn't like a man who's happy his case got dismissed. He's hoping his wife gets found, and he hopes there's a real effort to find her. And he also hopes the Denver metro area will allow him to support himself and his family financially and let him finally get out of the fish bowl he's been in."

Click to read the Barry Morphew arrest affidavit, the defense's February supplement to a motion for sanctions, the prosecution's response to the motion, and the April 19 motion to dismiss the case without prejudice.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts