Jailed Va. lawmaker still has backers despite new charges

AP News
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Posted: Jan 22, 2015 10:57 AM
Jailed Va. lawmaker still has backers despite new charges

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — New felony charges against a Virginia lawmaker who is spending nights in jail after a sex scandal involving a teenager may give disdainful colleagues fresh ammunition to censure or expel him. But the lawyer-politician still has friends in his corner and vows he'll prove his innocence.

Del. Joseph D. Morrissey, a 57-year-old four-term Democrat who was recently re-elected as an independent despite the scandal, has been indicted on four felony charges of perjury and forgery. The indictments were unsealed Wednesday in Henrico County Circuit Court near Richmond.

Legislators have been considering how to discipline Morrissey, who retained his seat despite last month's conviction for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and a six-month jail sentence. He was stripped of his committee assignments and shunned by colleagues.

Morrissey, who is white, gained popularity in his black-majority district on the eastern outskirts of Richmond by emphasizing service to voters who felt long ignored at the state Capitol. Many of his backers call him "Fighting Joe."

Supporter Preston Brown said the new charges don't change his mind about Morrissey. Brown, who is black, said he suspects "the Democratic machine" has been out to get Morrissey. But he said legislative leaders should respect the will of the voters and leave Morrissey alone.

"They've got the rest of the year to mess with Joe," he said, noting another election in November would give opponents an opportunity to try to oust him at the ballot box.

Morrissey is spending nights in jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, allowed out each day on work release. Each day he serves in the legislature, he earns a day of "good time" credit, reducing his six-month sentence.

He accepted the misdemeanor conviction, avoiding trial on charges of taking "indecent liberties" with a 17-year-old, child pornography and soliciting a minor, felonies that could have put him in prison for decades and caused automatic loss of his post.

After his conviction, the lawmaker announced his resignation under pressure from colleagues. He then angered them by running as an independent in the special election to choose his successor. He defeated a Republican and a Democrat last week, before the start of the General Assembly session.

The indictment accused Morrissey of forging a document he vouched for in court, and persuading the teenager's mother to swear to its authenticity. That woman also was indicted on perjury and forgery charges. Morrissey faces up to 10 years on each count if convicted, special prosecutor William J. Neely said.

Morrissey said he will prove his innocence. "This is a very harmful and mean-spirited blow, but I'll do what I've always done. I'll prevail," Morrissey said.

Republican House Speaker William J. Howell called the new charges "a truly painful and embarrassing chapter" for the House.

Morrissey has denied having sex with Myrna Pride, a receptionist in his law office at the time.

The young woman's sisters and father said they got suspicious after finding a nude photo and an exchange of sexually explicit text messages on her phone. They tracked Morrissey and Pride from a restaurant one night in 2013, and then called police, who found the teenager inside his home at midnight.

Pride — now 18 and pregnant — has denied having sex with Morrissey, a bachelor who has fathered three children with three different women. But she said in a broadcast interview last week that she still cares and worries about him as a friend.

The Associated Press usually does not disclose the names of alleged sex crime victims, but Pride has gone public with her side of the story.

Morrissey claimed Pride came to his home that night in August 2013 not for sex, but to get his legal help recovering child support from her father, Coleman Pride.

Neely said Morrissey presented a document in court last month to support this version. It appears to be a court order showing that Coleman Pride had agreed to pay $50 a month into a college fund for his daughter. But Neely said there is no court record of any child support order, and that the document "appears to be a fabrication."

Police searched Morrissey's law office the day before the special election for evidence related to the document. That same day, the indictments were filed under seal. A politician who has repeatedly captured at least 70 percent of the vote previously, he won the special election with less than 50 percent.

"My God is going to judge Joe, myself and everybody else," 56-year-old Earl Bradley, who voted for Morrissey, said before the new charges. "What I've got to deal with is what Joe can bring to the table that's going to benefit the masses of people."