COLUMBIA — Convicted murderer Gregory W. Morton — and the story of his crime — once again dominated the witness stand as he continued to testify against his ex-wife, Tausha L. Fields.
It was the third day of the trial in Fields' complicated case; she is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the 2004 death of her former husband, Mitchell W. Kemp.
Basic facts about the case are undisputed — the prosecution and the defense agree that on Aug. 24, 2004, Fields brought Kemp to the property she shared with Morton, Morton shot Kemp and Fields helped bury the body.
But the sides disagree about whether Fields' actions were voluntary and whether the crime was her idea.
Morton began his testimony in Fields' case Tuesday afternoon and continued to speak for most of the proceedings on Wednesday. Morton pleaded guilty during his trial in June 2009 to a reduced charge of second-degree murder in exchange for his testimony against Fields, and is expected to be sentenced to 19 years next week.
Fields' attorney, public defender Paul Hood, had Morton — still shackled at the ankles — rise from the witness stand and reenact his final encounter with Kemp in 2004.
Morton stood a short distance from Hood, raised his hands to mimic a gun and described shooting Kemp six times in the abdomen.
Morton then moved closer to the attorney, lowered his head and took aim, and described his seventh shot – this one fatal — to Kemp's heart.
After this display, which visibly stressed Kemp's family, Hood asked Morton again about the day of the murder and the surrounding months.
Hood said he wanted to know why Morton didn't call the police when Fields' twice told him she'd been raped by Kemp; why Morton sold the farm he'd once considered "sacred" and cut ties with his father and daughter, with whom he was very close; why Morton essentially changed Fields' daughter's name — from Lexie Kemp to Lexie Morton — in the months after he killed her natural father.
During earlier questioning by Boone County Assistant Prosecutor Richard Hicks, Morton said he was tricked by Fields into murdering Kemp; Hood argued that the killing was actually due to Morton's desire to replace Kemp and dominate Fields.
Much of Hood's questioning involved two meetings between Morton and prosecutors in January and a deposition Hood conducted on May 25. Hood challenged Morton on small changes Morton made to his deposition that suggested greater premeditation by he and Fields.
An emotional Morton said the changes to the answers were made because he wanted to take ownership of his part in the crime and help bring closure to Kemp's family. The updated responses made his crime "more horrible and despicable," he said, but were also more truthful.
Hood argued that Morton's changes were intended to hurt Fields, who has no plea agreement with the state. Pre-meditation would make Kemp's death a first-degree murder, which means Fields — if convicted — would receive a life sentence that Morton avoided by making a deal.
Attorneys from both sides questioned four other witnesses for the prosecution.
The jury also heard Morton's daughter, Megan, 16, via a recorded video deposition. Megan Morton — who lived with her father and Fields during the summer of 2004 — said she was cut off from her father for several years following the murder.
She said their relationship was strained after Fields repeatedly accused Megan Morton of stealing, lying and molesting Fields' daughter, Lexie. Both Mortons testified that Fields gave Gregory Morton an ultimatum — pick either her or his daughter. He chose Fields, and Megan Morton was sent to live with her mother.
Megan testified that she and her father have since reunited, after he realized that "everything that happened out (at the farm) was pretty much a lie."
Fields’ trial is expected to last through next week.