Brenda Welch said Wednesday that for the first time since November 2014, she finally feels safe. Her ex-husband, David Morgan, was sentenced to 25 years in prison, one week after he was convicted of trying to kill her and setting his house on fire to cover it up.
The trial process has lasted nearly two months. The first trial ended in a mistrial after a fire marshal testified that his opinion was the fire was intentionally set, not that an intentionally set fire was the only option that could not be ruled out. That opinion was not shared with the defense, and therefore was declared a violation of defendant’s rights.
The defense asked for charges to be dropped, but Judge Joseph Wilson denied that request.
Morgan spoke to the court for the first time Wednesday during his sentencing. He said his only ally in this case, Welch, does not remember what happened, then he told his version of what happened the night of the fire. He said he remembered seeing Welch fall backwards and helping her take off her sweater as it burned. He said he tried to put out the flames on her hair.
Then, he said, he tried to carry her out, but she started flailing. He said he tried to drag her out, but he couldn’t hold on to her.
“I said, ‘Come on, we have to get out of here or we’re both going to die,’” Morgan told the court. His voice cracked and his hands shook violently. “I heard this voice in my head that said you’ve done all you can. I backed out of there and I screamed for her to follow me and she would not follow me.”
He said the first thing he did when he saw firefighters out front was tell them she was inside.
“I do not apologize for anything I did that night,” Morgan said. “Brenda, I’m sorry you got hurt, but I wish to God you could have remembered what happened.
“If you want to lock me up for the rest of my life because I did what little I could do to save Brenda, then I’ve given up on society,” he told Judge Wilson.
Moments before, Welch walked slowly up to a microphone to speak to Judge Wilson. She immediately started crying and uttered, “This is so hard.” She struggled to catch her breath.
She handed a piece of paper to Deputy Prosecutor Paul Stern, who read on her behalf.
“I’m still having problems with my head. I have problems with my memories, and I need to have more surgeries,” Stern said. “It was 10 months until I could drive or return to work, and then it was only part-time. My daughter cries so much because she says she wishes I was never in the fire. She knows how much pain I’ve been in. It’s hard for me, my daughter and my other girls, what happened.”
Prosecutors asked for the maximum sentences for attempted murder (260.25 months) and arson (41 months). Though Morgan was also convicted of assault, his sentence does not reflect that, as the assault and the attempted murder are the same act.
“There is something remarkably unique about this case,” Stern said. “I have tried several other cases where the crime is connected to one of a half dozen things – influence of alcohol, or the lack of an ability to get off of an addiction to drugs, or the untreated mental illness, or the careless handling of firearms or succumbing to peer pressure. That isn’t this. This is unique. Mr. Morgan’s conduct was actions of other evil. That’s rare.”
Prosecutors are also seeking restitution in excess of $65,000.
Defense attorneys sought the minimum sentence of 36 months for the attempted murder and 18 months for the arson.
“Mr. Morgan has adamantly denied his involvement in this case, but he understands the verdict the jury has returned,” defense attorney Donald Wackerman said. “When firefighters arrived, he did immediately indicate Ms. Welch’s presence in the garage, which may well have saved her life.”
Wilson considered what he heard, then said it is human nature to look for the good in people, even those convicted of terrible crimes.
“Most times, you can,” Wilson said. “Most times, you have some idea of where actions have originated and where things have come from and you look for them because you want to believe that as sentient human beings, we have in us the capacity for kindness and love.”
Wilson went on to say the story Morgan told on Wednesday morning is inconsistent with the evidence in this case.
“The facts just do not support his twisted version of what he believes has happened, and if that will allow him to live with what he did, then so be it, he has to live with it,” Wilson said. “On the other end, I have a victim who has gone through excruciating pain. I’m encouraged by her focus, which is not on herself. She didn’t talk to me about herself this morning, she talked to me about her daughters.
“In some twisted way, I find in Ms. Welch what I was hoping to find in Mr. Morgan, and I find him lacking,” Wilson said. “If I had the ability to sentence you to life in prison, I would do so, but I don’t have that ability. I will sentence you to the maximum allowed by law.”
That sentence totals just over 25 years. Morgan will get credit for the 513 days he has already served in prison.
Wilson also signed a no-contact order that will prevent Morgan from contacting Welch for the rest of their lives. Morgan is ordered to pay the minimum court costs for now, totaling $600. A restitution hearing is scheduled for May 11.
–Story and photos by Natalie Covate