Accused murder William Morse looks back at the courtroom during the first day of his trial on Wednesday. PHOTO BY MARK GOOD

Control of pot farm at issue in murder trial

ELLSWORTH — The question of who was growing marijuana on property owned by murder victim Richard Bellittieri again was raised Thursday, the second day of testimony in the trial of William Morse.

On the first day of testimony, defense attorney Jeffrey Toothaker pressed a former drug agent on the value of the 261 marijuana plants found growing on the Trenton property in July 2013, and if there had been marijuana planted there in previous years. His line of questioning suggested that the victim may have maintained a pot-growing operation on the property, one that had the potential of generating hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Toothaker appeared to be raising the possibility that Bellittieri’s death was the result of dealing with the type of criminal who buys large amounts of the drug.

On Thursday, prosecutors introduced testimony designed to counter that strategy, calling witnesses who pointed to the defendant, William Morse, as the person running the grow operation.

Morse, 45, was arrested Aug. 1, 2013 and charged with the murder of Bellittieri, who had hired him to help in construction of a duplex on the Goose Cove Road. Bellittieri’s remains were found buried behind that duplex in July. A state medical examiner later determined Bellittieri died of gunshots wounds inflicted a year earlier.

Deputy attorney general Lisa Marchese, who is co-prosecuting the case with assistant attorney general Donald Macomber, attempted to chip away at Toothaker’s assertion. They called Pauline Buie, a friend of the victim, to the stand.

She met Bellittieri at ballroom dance classes in 2011 and they became close friends, Buie said. In reply to a question by Marchese, she said she never saw the victim smoke or grow marijuana.

Buie also testified that she became concerned about Bellittieri after he failed to respond to her phone calls and emails sometime around May 1, 2012.

Marchese later called John Seigle of Bar Harbor to testify. Seigle said he met Bellittieri in the early summer of 2012, when he rented a room in a house in Mount Desert owned by the victim and visited the Trenton property, which was under construction. Through Bellittieri he met Morse, who he knew as Bill Tool. Bellittieri, he said, disappeared about a month after he moved in.

“Bill Tool came by [the Mount Desert house] and said Richard had a death in the family and had to leave town,” Seigle said. Morse, he added, told the tenants he was managing the Mount Desert property while Bellittieri was away.

According to his testimony, Morse admitted growing marijuana on the Trenton property.

“He said he had some plants growing back in the woods,” Seigle said. In response to Marchese’s question, he said he understood the plants belonged to Morse and not Bellittieri. He did admit, under cross-examination by Toothaker’s co-counsel David Bate, that he never saw the plants.

At the end of August, Seigle, a high school English teacher, returned to his job in Pennsylvania. The next summer, 2013, he returned to Mount Desert Island. He settled in Bar Harbor and renewed his acquaintance with the man he knew as Bill Tool.

When Seigle inquired about Bellittieri, Morse told him that, “Rick was out in California and had gotten some woman pregnant.”

Also testifying that he saw marijuana growing on the property in 2012 was Daniel Tite of Bangor. Morse hired Tite to help him work on the duplex. During that time he lived with Morse and his girlfriend in the Trenton building. He testified that pot plants between four inches and three feet in height, were being raised. Tite said Morse indicated the plants were his.

“He said they were his babies,” Tite said.

Prosecutors on Thursday continued to introduce evidence and testimony to show that Morse had been posing as Bellittieri and using $175,000 of the dead man’s funds to purchase cars, motorcycles, a hot tub, boat and other items. His habit of leaving large tips for bartenders earned him the nickname “Hundred Dollar Bill” in Bar Harbor.

Morse’s attorneys rarely, if at all, challenged the testimony of most of these witnesses.

The testimony of one witness was contested Thursday. The defense objected to statements from a witness who said Bellittieri told him at a party in early July 2012 that a man hired to work on his duplex and living there was “drunk all the time” and would have to be fired.

Due to the controversy, jurors were removed from the courtroom while the witness was on the stand so that Justice William Anderson could get a better understanding of the nature of the testimony. He allowed both sides of the case to argue why it should or should not be introduced.

Toothaker argued several points. Morse was not specifically named in Bellittieri’s comment to the witness; the man to be fired was only a named as a “carpenter.” As a result, Morse should not be singled out because there could have been other people helping Bellittieri work on the duplex, Toothaker told the court. The attorney also argued that the witness’s statement should not be allowed because of it being hearsay.

In response, Marchese argued that Morse was the only person working and living on the property at the time. She said the prosecution later would have testimony from Morse’s girlfriend that this was the case.

Anderson postponed making a decision.

“I’m uncomfortable with letting this in now,” the justice said. “I really think there should be a strong link to the defendant.”

Marchese, speaking after the proceedings closed for the day, said the girlfriend is to take the stand next week.

Lead investigator Maine State Police Detective Tom Pickering testified Thursday morning, describing the events that began with Morse’s arrest by Bar Harbor police on a drunk-driving charge and the discovery that the defendant had identification, bank cards and other personal information belonging to Bellittieri in his possession. Pickering became involved after Bar Harbor police were unable to locate Bellittieri.

The prosecution also played a recording of an interview Pickering conducted with Morse a short time after police found the defendant hiding under a pile of clothes in a closet in the duplex.

On the recording, Morse is heard telling the detective that he was at the home to pick up some of his things and Bellittieri was to be back from New York at the end of the week. Morse said Bellittieri gave him a bank card to pay himself while the Trenton man was away.

“He got a phone call one day and went scurrying off to New York,” Morse tells the detective. “He said something about a house down there.”

Pickering also can be heard in the recording asking Morse if he has been telling people he is Bellittieri.

“Not that I can recall,” the defendant replied.

Upon further questioning, Morse did admit that he might have told the man renting the Mount Desert home at the time that he was Bellittieri as a matter of expediency in his role as caretaker of that property.

Testimony resumes Monday. The prosecution is expected to rest its case on Tuesday.

Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Mark Good

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