Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Oscar Morris

Other Los Angeles Murder Exonerations
Early on the morning of September 3, 1978, 45-year-old William Maxwell was shot to death at a Long Beach, California bathhouse, which was known to be a popular meeting place for homosexuals.  Police arrived at the scene moments after the shooting, and questioned a witness who saw the back of the shooter, but no one was arrested.
Several months later, a man named Joe West contacted the police to tell them that his friend, 33-year-old Oscar Morris, had murdered Maxwell.  West said he had dropped Morris off at the bathhouse that day and given him the murder weapon. West claimed Morris said he “had to kill” a homosexual.

West had known Morris since childhood, and the two men had a falling out shortly before West went to the police. Police began investigating Morris, but in 1979 the detectives were pulled from the case, and it was mistakenly filed as a closed case.

The investigation was stagnant until 1982, when Joe West was arrested for auto theft and joyriding.  He again told police that Morris had killed Maxwell.

By then, Morris was in prison for two other killings. He was charged with Maxwell’s murder shortly afterwards.
West was the key witness for the prosecution at Morris’s trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court.  He testified that he received nothing from the state in return for his testimony, though it was later revealed that in fact West’s sentence for an auto theft charge had been reduced and his sentence for a parole violation had been terminated.

In March 1983, Morris was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.
In 1988, the Supreme Court of California reduced Morris’s death sentence to life without parole, finding that there was no evidence that the murder had been committed during a robbery, a necessary condition for a capital sentence.
In 1997, on his death-bed, West recanted his testimony against Morris.  Based on this new evidence, the Supreme Court of California ordered an evidentiary hearing in 1998, and the Los Angeles County Superior Court granted Morris a new trial.

While on Death Row in the bathhouse murder, Morris completed an eight-year sentence for second-degree murder and manslaughter in two 1979 killings, committed while the bathhouse murder was unsolved.

In 2000, the prosecutors declined to retry the case, and Morris was freed.  Morris filed a lawsuit against the city in 2002, but a jury returned a verdict against him.
- Alexandra Gross

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date:  Before June 2012
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:1978
Age at the date of reported crime:33
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No