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Barney Morse

Other Montana Sexual Assault Exonerations
On September 17, 2012, 61-year-old Barney Morse was asked to give a massage in Anaconda, Montana, to his girlfriend’s adult daughter, who suffered from spinal neuropathy and chronic back pain as a result of childbirth.

The daughter, identified only as H.S., knew that Morse was a good friend of a local chiropractor and she believed that Morse knew some chiropractic techniques. He had performed minor adjustments on her in the past.

On that day, H.S. had severe back pain. She took a muscle relaxant and asked her mother to watch her children because she was concerned that the muscle relaxant would make her “very tired” and unable to care for them.

The massage lasted for five hours.

A few days later, she reported to police that she got up after the massage to urinate and realized she had white fluid on her shorts and believed that it was semen from Morse.

After the shorts were tested by the Montana State Police crime laboratory and revealed no semen or blood (the lab was unable to test for vaginal fluid), H.S. said that she felt Morse digitally penetrating her during the massage.

Morse was arrested and charged with rape. He went to trial in Deer Lodge County District Court in March 2013. H.S. testified that she felt Morse penetrating her digitally, but could not cry out because of the effect of the muscle relaxant.

Morse testified in his own defense and denied any improper contact with H.S.

On March 20, 2013, the jury convicted Morse. In April, his defense attorney filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that there had been insufficient evidence. That motion was denied.

In May 2013, H.S. went to Anaconda police to report that her husband had sexually assaulted her. While being interviewed by police H.S. said she was beginning to think that Morse might not have assaulted her and was in fact trying to help her. H.S. told a detective that having had time to think about the day of the massage, she remembered that the wetness on her was urine because she wet herself.

During two follow-up conversations with police, one of which was recorded, H.S. re-iterated that she remembered the wetness on her was urine. “I did relax to the point where I obviously peed myself, because you know I can’t, can’t feel my, anything from the waist down, then what I did feel was not right.”

Based on the new statements from H.S., Morse’s attorney filed an amended motion for a new trial. Although Montana law requires new trial motions to be filed within 30 days of a conviction, Judge Ray Dayton, who had presided over Morse’s trial, conducted a hearing on the motion anyway. After hearing the testimony of H.S., Dayton denied the motion as being time-barred, though he expressed concern that H.S. was contradicting her trial testimony.

In December 2013, Judge Dayton sentenced Morse to 15 years in prison with all but five years suspended. Morse was allowed to remain free on bond while appealed the ruling.

In February 2015, the Montana Supreme Court reversed Dayton’s decision, set aside Morse’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The court held that Dayton could have granted the motion for new trial, even though it was filed after the 30-day deadline for filing such a motion, under a provision of the law that allowed a judge to grant a new trial “in the interest of justice.”

On October 6, 2015, Dayton granted a prosecution motion to dismiss the case.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/16/2015
County:Deer Lodge
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2012
Sentence:5 years
Age at the date of reported crime:61
Contributing Factors:
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No