William Morse FILE PHOTO

Murder case details emerge



ELLSWORTH — In a court hearing last week, a state police detective defended the actions of law enforcement officers during events leading to the arrest of William Morse for the alleged murder of a Trenton accountant.

Morse, 45, of Otis and Fishkill, N.Y., is accused of murdering 61-year-old Richard Bellittieri, whose skeletal remains were found in July 2013 behind the home he owned on the Goose Cove Road in Trenton.

Morse and his attorneys, Jeffrey Toothaker and David Bate, were in Hancock County Unified Criminal Court Feb. 19 to argue that some of the evidence in the case should be suppressed. Several law enforcement officers, including state police detective Tom Pickering, testified at the hearing. Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber and deputy attorney general Lisa Marchese represented the state.

State police began looking for Bellittieri in July 10, 2013 after Bar Harbor police arrested Morse on drunk driving charges, refusing to submit to arrest and refusing to produce identification. Morse allegedly was driving a vehicle registered to Bellittieri. Officers searched the vehicle and seized a driver’s license, credit cards, a Social Security card, birth certificate and other documents belonging to Bellittieri.

In court last week, Toothaker told Justice Robert Murray he wanted the judge to suppress anything found during the search of the car because there was insufficient probable cause.

Prosecutors disagreed, saying that police found Morse in possession of marijuana, giving police the probable cause they needed to proceed.

As part of the investigation, state police detectives interviewed a tenant who lived in a home owned by Bellittieri in the Mount Desert village of Hall Quarry. When shown photographs of Bellittieri and Morse, the tenant identified Morse as his landlord and said he knew him as Richard Bellittieri.

On July 25, 2013, detectives went to Bellittieri’s Trenton home. Pickering testified that no one came to the door. During a walk around the home, he saw no one inside. They did find a “large amount” of marijuana growing on the property and called in the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency (MDEA).

According to Pickering, detectives made the decision to obtain a warrant to search the home and have two uniformed state police troopers stand guard until a warrant could be obtained. To ensure the safety of the troopers, the detectives and local MDEA agents first conducted a “protective sweep” of the property, which included entering the home.

Toothaker asked Pickering why there was a need to enter the home. The presence of two vehicles that Morse was known to use and the fact that an air conditioner in a window of the home was operating was troubling, Pickering said.

“It was a sinking feeling, thinking someone might be inside the residence at that point,” Pickering replied.

After using a credit card to open the locked door, the detectives and drug agents entered, loudly and frequently announcing their presence. In earlier testimony, Lieutenant Chris Thornton of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, who at the time was a MDEA agent, said the home “reeked” of recently smoked marijuana.

As police fanned out to search the home, Thornton went to a bedroom and found a pile of clothes on the floor of a closet, according to his testimony. As he began to sift through the items, Thornton saw a hand and called out to other officers. Pickering said he entered the bedroom and saw Morse being held on the floor by Thornton and another MDEA agent, Corey Bagley.

Pickering said that Morse said he had stopped by the home to pick up some tools and consented to be interviewed.

Pickering said he took Morse to his cruiser, where he conducted and recorded a 30-minute interview despite the suspect stating that he didn’t like talking with police.

“He wanted to answer questions about how to find [Bellittieri],” Pickering told the court. “He didn’t answer every question I asked.”

Morse reportedly told Pickering that he had been hired to work on the home and that Bellittieri was living with a woman in New York. At the time, Morse had not been made aware of his constitutional right to remain silent.

“He wasn’t in custody,” Pickering said. “He knew he didn’t have to consent to an interview.”

Following the interview and after being informed he could not go back into the home, Morse declined a ride from police and said he would walk to a nearby store to call a girlfriend to pick him up. The search warrant was obtained and executed the next day.

Toothaker is asking the court to suppress all evidence found in the home, including Morse himself, up until the search warrant was obtained.

In addition, Toothaker is asking for the suppression of any statements Morse made to police between July 25 and July 29, 2013.

Toothaker also is questioning the validity of the search warrant itself, which was issued for 318 Goose Cove Road. Bellittieri’s address, Toothaker said, was 320.

Pickering addressed that discrepancy earlier in his testimony while being questioned by Macomber. The detective said the only mailbox at the end of the driveway was 318 but admitted there were two homes on that road. Despite the incorrect box number, the affidavit for the search warrant fully described Bellittieri’s home. He later told Toothaker that the home was not given a box number until July 2014 because it still was under construction. The actual number is 326, he said.

Justice Murray gave Toothaker until March 10 to file any briefs related to the motion to suppress and another seven days for a response by the attorney general’s office. Murray will issue a decision sometime after those documents are filed with the court.

Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Mark Good

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