Originally created 08/12/97

Judge to decide if death appropriate sentence for Morrison



Nearly 10 years after Ernest Ulysses Morrison asked for and received a death sentence, a judge will decide next month if death is an appropriate punishment.

The jury selected Sept. 2 won't have to decide if Mr. Morrison, 37, is guilty of the Jan. 9, 1987, rape, robbery and murder of Mary Edna Griffin, 54, a distant relative.

The only question for the jury will be Mr. Morrison's punishment - death or life in prison.

Eleven months after Mrs. Griffin was strangled in her Augusta home, Mr. Morrison pleaded guilty to all charges and asked Richmond County Superior Court Judge Albert M. Pickett to sentence him to death. The judge did so at the end of a seven-hour trial.

But Mr. Morrison later decided he wanted to appeal. He was granted a new sentencing trial so that a jury could consider the issue of mental retardation, although his convictions were upheld.

In Georgia, if a jury determines a person is mentally retarded, he cannot be sentenced to death.

If sentenced to life in prison, Mr. Morrison would be eligible for parole. However, in addition to the death sentence, Mr. Morrison received two consecutive life prison sentences - for rape and armed robbery - and another 20 years for theft. Those sentences remain.

Prosecutors will be able to use aggravating factors against Mr. Morrison in an attempt to persuade the jury to impose a death sentence. Mr. Morrison was facing unrelated charges of rape and armed robbery at the time of Mrs. Griffin's slaying and he had escaped from the Aiken County jail two days before Mrs. Griffin was killed.

Mrs. Griffin and her husband didn't know Mr. Morrison was an escapee in November 1987 when he asked if he could stay with them. Two days later, Mrs. Griffin was raped and her car stolen. Mr. Morrison was arrested that night in Monteagle, Tenn., and returned to Georgia.