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Morris sentenced on arson charges

Daily Inter Lake | September 7, 2021 7:00 AM

The Eureka man accused of starting multiple fires in north Lincoln County last summer received a suspended, 24-year sentence last month so long as he continues to manage his mental illness and abides by the terms of his probation.

Leroy Robert Morris, 68, pleaded no contest to 12 counts of arson heading into his Aug. 27 sentencing.

Morris earned the dozen felony charges after allegedly setting fires in July and August 2020. In court documents, investigators took note of his fixation on the end of the world during interviews with law enforcement, but his existing bipolar disorder diagnosis only came to public light in court proceedings.

“This is a very complicated case,” said District Judge Matthew Cuffe, acknowledging the mental illness aspect prior to handing down the sentence.

According to testimony earlier in the day from Dr. Joseph Boyle, a psychiatry specialist based in Kalispell, Morris received his bipolar diagnosis in 2017. With help from a prescription, Morris did well until going off the medications in the spring of 2020, Boyle told the court. During the pandemic, Morris began self-medicating with alcohol instead, he said.

Since his arrest, Morris has begun receiving his medication in a monthly injection, Boyle said, and his wife has trained to recognize the onset of symptoms. While a breakthrough could occur, it was unlikely, he said.

Despite the assurances, County Attorney Marcia Boris argued Morris should receive 20 years with the Montana State Prison with 10 years suspended per count, all to run concurrent. That would have put Morris behind bars for the next decade and required him to pay a little more than $53,000 in restitution.

She argued that Morris’ deteriorating mental health last year should have alerted someone close to him that he had stopped taking his medication. Boris also pointed out the lack of a court order requiring Morris to take medication going forward.

Todd Glazier, Morris’ defense attorney, urged the judge to sentence Morris to 10 years, all suspended, for each count, to run concurrent with one another. Glazier pointed to Morris’ age, lack of criminal history and compliance leading up to the sentencing as reasons for his recommendation.

“He’s a good guy and I don’t often say that,” Glazier told the court.

In a statement prior to the sentencing, Glazier said it was unusual for a 68-year-old to appear in court on felony charges without a previous criminal history. He cited the economic lockdowns early on in the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason why Morris struggled to get his medication.

“We have worked hard formulating a game plan to make sure this does not happen again and ensure that the community is safe,” Glazier said. “In my profession, we see these types of circumstance with individuals with some sort of mental illness and it would be nice to see a community be supportive rather than punitive.”

While referencing Morris’ struggles with bipolar disorder, Cuffe underscored the seriousness of the string of arsons last summer during last week’s sentencing.

“You put life and property in jeopardy,” he told Morris.

As part of the sentence, Cuffe directed Morris to sign a medical release with probation so law enforcement can keep tabs on whether Morris receives his medication. Cuffe also ordered the sentence run consecutive to the one he received in a separate assault with a weapon case.

He pleaded guilty to that charge after striking a deal with prosecutors. While investigators were trying to track down the arsonist behind last summer’s blazes, Morris had a run-in with a couple near Therriault Pass Road. During the confrontation, he allegedly pulled a firearm out. He received a suspended 10-year sentence for the incident on Aug. 2.

Between the two sentences, Morris likely will be under supervision for the rest of his natural life, Cuffe said. Non-compliance, though, will land Morris in prison, the judge warned.

“Your lack of criminal history and age are the reason for this sentence,” Cuffe said. “This is a complicated case, but consistent with Montana state law.”