A McLennan County jury on Thursday found a Baylor University graduate not guilty of sexually assaulting a fellow college student in March 2014, despite DNA evidence that prosecutors said proved his guilt.
Jurors in 19th State District Court deliberated almost three hours before acquitting 25-year-old Hunter Michael Morgan on sexual assault charges.
Morgan, who did not testify during the three-day trial, had tears in his eyes and hugged his mother after his acquittal. He declined comment after the trial, but his attorney, Antonius Massar, of Garland, said Morgan never wavered in proclaiming his innocence.
“Obviously, the jury did the right thing in this case,” Massar said. “He is a wonderful young man, Christian man, no prior criminal record, pre-med major, 4.0 (grade-point average), big church member. He has lost so much just because of these allegations. Hopefully, he can go forward now.”
Morgan dropped out of the pre-med program at Baylor after the allegations surfaced, and he can’t get life or health insurance because of the criminal case, Massar said. Morgan is working in his father’s construction business in Rockwall.
After the not guilty verdict was read, the alleged victim rushed from the courtroom with her family and friends.
Prosecutors Hilary LaBorde and David Shaw declined comment after the trial.
Morgan rejected a plea bargain offer from the state before trial that would have called for him to plead guilty to unlawful restraint, be placed on deferred probation and to register locally as a sex offender.
The unlawful restraint charge carried the underlying offense of sexual assault. Morgan did not accept the offer “because there was no sexual assault,” his attorney said.
The accuser testified Wednesday that she drank too much while partying with friends and she and a few others ended up at Morgan’s apartment. She said she threw up and blacked out and didn’t know where she was when she woke up the next day. She did not know Morgan but they met that evening through mutual friends, she said.
The woman told the jury she does not remember being sexually assaulted, but said she experienced vaginal pain the next day and discovered that her bra was missing and her panties had been removed and put back on her inside-out. A rape exam revealed she had a vaginal tear and “friction injuries,” indicative of sexual assault.
DNA testing found that skin cells found on the inside and outside of the woman’s underwear was linked to Morgan, as well as to an unknown other person, according to trial testimony.
Prosecutors argued that the only way Morgan’s DNA evidence was detected in the crotch area and another location on the underwear was because Morgan undressed her, sexually assaulted her after she passed out and then put her underwear back on inside-out.
Massar argued that Morgan is innocent and that his skin-cell DNA came from the bed he slept in.
“There is no evidence other than her sleeping in Hunter’s bed,” Massar said Thursday in jury summations. “He said he didn’t do it. What else can he do if he didn’t do it?”
The jury watched videos of police interviews with Morgan. In the initial interview, he said he put her in his bed and slept on the couch. He said they did not have sex. In the subsequent interview, after DNA tests came back, Morgan said the detective’s questions were making him “uncomfortable,” and he ended the interview.
Juror Todd Millerd said after the trial that the jury’s initial vote was 7-5 for guilty. However, the more they discussed the evidence, the more reasonable doubt crept into their deliberations.
“It came down to just a basic lack of evidence,” Millerd said. “We felt the only true evidence was the DNA and there just wasn’t enough. Again, that is where reasonable doubt came in. There just were too many different theories about how that could happen. The DNA being there was one thing. But how it got there could have been a number of different things. It was a relatively small amount in only two parts of the panties, and there were many different explanations for how that may have gotten there.”
Millerd said some jurors were troubled by Morgan declining to answer questions in the second police interview, but not enough to find him guilty, because it was within his rights to end the interrogation.
LaBorde said Baylor officials were notified of the woman’s allegations and started an investigation. However, the woman graduated, left Waco and declined to cooperate, leading Baylor officials to close out the investigation because of an uncooperative complainant, LaBorde said.
The woman, who is now teaching high school history in another state, testified she lost her older brother in a motorcycle accident later that semester and has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression disorder.
Morgan graduated from Baylor in 2015 with a biology degree.
In jury summations, Shaw likened the case to an overnight burglary of a business in which the door was smashed open, the register was broken into and the money was gone. He said owners wouldn’t have to be there to know they were robbed.
Also, he said, if police dusted for fingerprints and found only employees’ prints and one other strange set of prints, and if that person said he has never been to the store, police would have a prime suspect.
“Now imagine it wasn’t a store, it wasn’t glass. It was your flesh, it was your blood, it was your genitalia that had been broken into,” Shaw told jurors. “That’s the situation (the alleged victim) found herself in when she woke up that day. She was a crime scene. She didn’t have the surveillance camera, she didn’t have the memory to go back and know who had done this to her. She was sore, she was hurting, she was injured ... Her body was the broken glass on the front door of that store.”