Case worker: Relationship ‘oil and water’

Published 10:00 am Friday, April 23, 2010

A case worker for Jody Lee Morrow testified at the Rice County Courthouse Thursday that she saw Morrow’s health deteriorate over the years she worked with her and that she offered to move Morrow out of her trailer, which she believed was not a healthy environment.

June Etienne, a licensed state social worker assigned to Freeborn County to work with adults with mental health illness, said Morrow was insistent on staying in her trailer, even though it had poor sanitation and other health concerns.

Morrow was a diabetic, and the social worker said she thought the conditions of the floor in Morrow’s trailer could have led to infections or problems with her feet.

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Etienne said she first met Morrow in July of 2005 when Morrow moved to Albert Lea and came to her office, requesting assistance in getting her Social Security benefits transferred and getting some furniture for her new home.

Morrow was lonely and didn’t know anyone. She had a mental health diagnosis of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, but was “very, very smart,” Etienne testified. She had a good sense of humor and was a delight to talk with.

Initially, Etienne assisted Morrow with going to the food shelf for some food and to the Salvation Army for clothes and furniture.

Then, she hooked Morrow up with Cedar House for socialization and group therapy, where she could hopefully meet some friends and have contact with others, Etienne said. She also referred her to the Adult Rehabilitation Mental Health Services program.

Etienne said Morrow first lived in Shady Oaks, but in October of 2005, she moved to 940 Jefferson Ave. after she got into a relationship with Chad Gulbertson.

At that location, there were also other people who moved in and out of the apartment, the case worker said.

In September of 2006, Gulbertson and Morrow moved to 730 Larimore Circle, the Rainbow Terrace trailer park, after their landlord on Jefferson Avenue asked them to leave.

She said the trailer had been abandoned and had a lot of furniture in it that was in bad shape.

When Etienne first went to the trailer, she said there was mold in the refrigerator, carpet that was “disgusting,” bad plumbing, broken windows and a furnace with problems. At one point early on, Morrow and Gulbertson had to rip up the carpet because it was in bad shape. Some areas of the floor just had the wood underneath.

In the later part of her life when Morrow used a wheelchair, that wheelchair was too wide to get down the hallway. So she would use a walker to get down the hallway to her room.

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“I remember saying, ‘Let me put you somewhere safe and healthy,’” Etienne said.

Morrow declined.

She said Morrow “was cheerful about having a space of her own that she was going to eventually own.”

She noted that Morrow told her that Gulbertson would also bring things home he found in Dumpsters, and the house quickly became filled with junk.

Etienne said over the years she worked with Morrow, Morrow got behind on some of her bills and she asked Etienne to help monitor her finances. Though, Etienne did monitor Morrow, Morrow was the person who actually wrote out the bills.

The social worker described Morrow’s relationship with Gulbertson as an “oil and water relationship,” that changed from week to week.

She knew the couple had many quarrels at home and that Morrow had a lot of stress from the other people who moved in and out.

On two occasions, once in 2006 and once in 2007, Morrow was taken to the South Central Crisis Center after she threatened to take her own life.

In November of 2006, she pled guilty to fifth-degree domestic assault against Gulbertson for apparently hitting or throwing something at Gulbertson, Etienne said.

Morrow was assigned to complete community service hours and to complete a dialectical behavior therapy class. She was also to take her medication and have no similar incidents over the next year. She successfully completed the conditions.

Etienne said over the four years she knew Morrow, her mental health fluctuated.

“It never got cured,” she said.

Her last face-to-face meeting with Morrow was May 18, 2009, when Morrow called her and asked if she could meet with her and a Crime Victims Crisis Center advocate to file an order for protection against Gulbertson.

“She was fearful during that time,” Etienne said. “She was fearful for herself and fearful for her property.”

Morrow said she had found an “Internet lover,” and she was hopeful and happy.

After the order for protection was official, Etienne said that Morrow told her that Gulbertson had a girlfriend and she was hopeful he would give up and leave Morrow alone.

Her comments came during the fourth day of testimony in the homicide case against Gulbertson.

Gulbertson faces five murder charges in Morrow’s death.

Morrow’s podiatry problems

Podiatrist Wayne Buckmaster of the Albert Lea Medical Center testified about the health-related issues he treated Morrow for, which included infections, ulcers, ingrown toenails and amputations, among others, in her feet. He said he performed surgery on her eight times since she was referred to him for a wound on her left foot in December of 2005.

In the time he had known her, Morrow had her right leg and two toes on her left foot amputated. She had numerous infections.

It was a bone infection that led to her right leg and foot being amputated below the knee. After this happened, she either used a walker or was in a wheelchair.

She usually got rides to her appointments with friends.

She was a diabetic and had neuropathy.

During his last visit with her June 17, 2009, he was treating a new ulceration on her left foot. He said Morrow “seemed to be in a little bit better frame of mind,” and was happier. She was talking about her children coming to visit — they were a big motivator for her.

Buckmaster said his patient didn’t always comply with his instructions, which sometimes made her conditions more challenging to heal.

A call out of the blue

Prosecutors played the audio of a collect call Gulbertson made on July 29, 2009, from the Freeborn County jail to Albert Lean Francis Freeman, who previously lived in an adjacent apartment to Morrow and Gulbertson on Jefferson Avenue. The three also knew each other from Cedar House, where they went for group therapy and socialization.

During the call, Freeman asked Gulbertson why he had called and then questioned whether they should be talking about anything related to the case.

He told Gulbertson the police had questioned him, and he said: “I told them what I knew.”

On more than one occasion, Gulbertson talked to Freeman about what led up to Morrow’s death.

He said Morrow had grabbed a hammer and tried to “whack” him with it. After he got that away from her, she got a knife, Gulbertson could be heard saying.

“Somebody hitting you in the hand with a hammer is no excuse to kill them,” Freeman said.

Many parts of Gulbertson’s statements to Freeman were not audible from the audience as the recording was played. The lawyers, jury and judge had transcripts of the conversation.

Freeman said he last saw Gulbertson the Friday before Morrow’s death at Cedar House. At that time, Freeman said, he offered to let Gulbertson shower at his apartment, wash his clothes and eat lunch because he was homeless.

After the order for protection was ordered, he was to have no contact with Morrow and thus had no home.

In that same conversation, Gulbertson mentioned to Freeman that there might be another person involved in Morrow’s life and that he wanted to make sure she wasn’t involved with someone else. Gulbertson told him he wanted to find this out sneakily, and Freeman said he warned Gulbertson he could get arrested if he went near Morrow’s trailer. Gulbertson agreed.

“I didn’t believe he was going to do that,” Freeman said.

Freeman also testified that over the course of a year when Gulbertson and Morrow lived in the adjacent apartment on Jefferson, he heard disagreements between them a couple times a week.

In one instance, he heard someone who he believed to be Morrow, being crashed into a wall.

He admitted he did not actually see the altercation and assumed it was Morrow because of the sound of the thud. Morrow was larger than Gulbertson.

Freeman also testified that a week or two prior to Morrow’s death, he ran into Gulbertson in front of a tattoo shop in Albert Lea. There they had a conversation, where Gulbertson said, “He’d be better off if he offed (expletive deleted),” referring to Morrow.

Freeman said he didn’t take it seriously and noted that Gulbertson was agitated .

Look to for further coverage of the trial.

On Friday, the trial will begin its fifth day of testimony.