Flanked by his partner, a Baltimore sheriff’s deputy pressed a doorbell camera in Northeast Baltimore around 6 a.m. He rapped the door — thump! thump! thump! — more than a dozen times.
“Sheriff’s Office,” he yelled. “You need to come to the door now.”
But the homeowner, Nancy Morse, wouldn’t come to the door Nov. 10. Not for this deputy or any officer thereafter who came to haul her into court.
Morse, who retired as a Baltimore Police crime scene technician in 2020, said she is scarred from her career of documenting evidence of violence and adamant about not participating further in the criminal justice process.
About three months ago, she was in an identical situation: hunkered down at home after ignoring subpoenas summoning her to court, an arrest warrant looming to ensure her testimony in a murder trial. She sneaked out Aug. 7 to run an errand. Police pulled her over on Park Heights Avenue, arrested her and took her to Central Booking. A jail officer led her into court, shackled and handcuffed, to testify.
“What I would do differently? I probably wouldn’t go outside because I probably wouldn’t have gotten caught,” Morse told The Baltimore Sun in August.
For the latest case, Baltimore homicide detective Ryan Diener delivered a subpoena to Morse’s door Oct. 24, the day it was issued.
Her doorbell camera recorded his message. He told Morse she collected evidence in a 2017 case that was set for trial Nov. 2. He recited the name of the prosecutor and his contact information, as well as the courtroom number and the time the trial would start.
“Hope you’re doing well,” Diener said. “I’ll try to reach back out to you and check back later to see if you’re home. Thank you.” The detective walked away.
At that moment, Morse began to prepare, she said in an interview late last month.
She canceled doctor’s appointments for the next three weeks and paid November’s bills early, in case an officer caught her walking to her mailbox. She ordered a rental car and kept it and her two other vehicles in the backyard, covered so the license plates weren’t visible. She wanted police to have no way to be sure she was home or to track a car’s tag.
Police came to her door over the next several weeks. She didn’t budge.
”I hardly went out, even in the rental car,” Morse told The Sun in late November.
”I just don’t want any part of that job in my head anymore,” she said. “It’s enough of the killing I see on TV, and I try not to even look at the news. It’s depressing. It’s all this anxiety.”
Morse kept the shades drawn, but peeped out the window occasionally, she said. Sometimes, she’d hush her 91-year-old mother, who likes to walk around the house singing, afraid her voice would give them away to surveilling officers. Morse recalled being paranoid, anxious about evading law officers.
“It’s worth it for me,” Morse said. “I remember how court was. It was never the exact day. Let’s say it was going to be Nov. 2. Well, it could be the 3rd or the 4th, or they could say it was delayed over the weekend or something. That’s more stressful than anything, knowing that I’m on call for two weeks. I don’t get paid and I’m retired.”
Unlike the double murder trials she was arrested for in August, she already had testified in the 2017 homicide case prosecutors needed her for in November. A jury convicted Tyrone White, 39, of murder and related firearm offenses in July 2019.
But within months, White had appealed. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed White’s conviction and ordered a new trial in light of a ruling in another appeals case about jury selection.
His retrial began in earnest Nov. 4. It continued into the next week with Morse remaining in her home.
White allegedly shot and killed Daniel Brinkley with a revolver in West Baltimore, according to court documents and trial testimony. Police and prosecutors linked him to the homicide with DNA, ballistics analysis and a witness who described the gunman’s clothing.
At his second trial, witnesses included police officers, a medical examiner and a man who found a box of ammunition, a revolver speed loader and a brown leather jacket in a trash can outside of a church blocks from the shooting scene. A firearms examiner, a DNA analyst and an FBI cellphone data expert testified, too.
But Morse, the technician who bagged and submitted the leather jacket to evidence, wasn’t there.
The jacket she had processed was important to the state’s case because it tested positive for White’s DNA. It was located alongside the box of ammunition, which had six rounds missing — the same types of rounds as one recovered from Brinkley’s body and two from the scene, according to the firearms examiner.
With the state’s case nearing a conclusion on the morning of Nov. 10, Circuit Judge Gregory Sampson decided it was time to address whether prosecutor Matthew Pillion could play video of Morse’s testimony from the first trial. Sampson’s ruling could determine whether the leather jacket could be admitted as evidence.
To play Morse’s recorded testimony, Sampson had to find she was “legally unavailable.” So began a midtrial evidentiary and legal hearing.
Diener, the homicide detective, was the first to testify. He told Sampson he went to Morse’s house seven times between Oct. 24 and Nov. 9. He said he “observed a woman walk very quickly from the mailbox area to the house” on one visit. The detective checked Baltimore’s license plate reader system for any sign she had been driving on city streets: The last hit for Morse’s SUV was Oct. 25.
Sheriff’s Deputy Hiram Henderson, who banged on Morse’s door and was pictured on her doorbell camera the same morning, took the stand next. He said neighbors hadn’t seen Morse for several days.
Pillion tried texting Morse, he said, but the message didn’t go through. The phone Morse used to communicate with Pillion after he had her arrested in August was a burner phone, she later told The Sun.
“Evasive and recalcitrant,” Pillion said of Morse.
The defense objected to playing the video of Morse’s previous testimony, saying the prosecution hadn’t done enough to bring her in.
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides a defendant the right to confront witnesses against them. Maryland law allows a person’s previous testimony or statement to be used if their presence can’t be compelled and if there was cross-examination during the earlier testimony.
“The court finds she is not being cooperative,” Sampson said of Morse, approving video of her previous testimony.
Morse’s voice carried clearly from the television speakers in Sampson’s courtroom, albeit with a slight echo. She answered mostly straightforward questions from the former prosecutor and defense attorney. She testified about being dispatched to the church property in the Upton neighborhood.
“[An officer] showed me a dumpster with items in it,” Morse said. “Of course, I photographed it first. And then I collected the items.”
The prosecutor at the time showed Morse an evidence bag. She confirmed her handwriting on the paper bag before he retrieved a brown jacket and held it up.
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“That’s the jacket,” Morse said at the time.
The video of her testimony spanned about an hour.
The second trial lasted three more days after that. A jury deliberated for two more days before reporting a deadlock. Sampson declared a mistrial Nov. 17.
A new trial for White has not been scheduled.
Online court records show White’s is the last active case Morse is connected to. Two other cases, the double murder convictions from August, are being appealed.
“I’m a 64-year-old woman, getting ready to get my Medicare in a couple of months, and I’m running around like some little kid, hiding in my own house,” Morse said. “This is not how I should be living. I want to sit in my recliner chair like an old woman and look at TV for a few hours, not peeping out the window and covering the curtains up, keeping quiet in the house.”
Morse doesn’t want to wait to find out what will happen the next time she’s needed in court. Instead, the lifelong Baltimore resident says she’s going to move out of state.