Friend testifies about previous threats, abuse

Published 1:11 pm Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Jury watches police interview in homicide trial

Witness: Defendant in trailer park night before

Morrow suffered 18 blows, 3 stabs

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One of the close friends of Jody Lee Morrow testified Wednesday at the Rice County Courthouse she had witnessed Chad Jamie Gulbertson push, threaten to hurt and threaten to kill Morrow several times in the two years preceding her death.

On one occasion, Morrow frantically called up the friend, Heather Bigelow, asking if she could take her to the emergency room after Gulbertson reportedly stomped on her foot that had just been operated on, Bigelow testified.

“They were constantly fighting,” she said.

Bigelow, whose testimony came during the third day of testimony in the homicide case against Gulbertson, said she and Morrow became close friends after meeting in a dialectical behavior therapy class. They had known each other for three years and became best friends.

Bigelow met Gulbertson about six to nine months after she and Morrow met.

She testified the only time she personally saw Gulbertson do something to physically hurt Morrow was in June of 2008 when he pushed her into the door. Bigelow said Morrow was on crutches at the time and Gulbertson wanted to get by, but couldn’t. He pushed her into the wall and she fell over.

That same month, Bigelow said, Morrow called her on the phone, and she could hear Gulbertson in the background. There was some type of argument going on — which she did not know specifics about — and she heard Gulbertson tell Morrow “he was going to cut her head off with a sword and then take care of any witnesses,” Bigelow testified.

The friend said Gulbertson had a collection of swords that hung “on just about every wall in the living room” of the trailer. He also had a collection of pocket knives and always let her and Morrow know he had three or four with him.

Other times Morrow would call her, and she would hear Gulbertson say in the background that he wanted to hit Morrow.

Bigelow said this “took place almost the entire time I knew him.”

In April 2009, Morrow had surgery to have an abscess removed from the top of her left foot. Bigelow took her to the surgery and then gave her a ride home.

Bigelow said Morrow had forgotten her keys but that she would call when she got inside. Her friend and former roommate down the street had a key.

Bigelow said she did not know whether Gulbertson was home at the time.

Morrow called about 10 minutes later saying she got into the trailer, and then 15 minutes afterward, Morrow called again.

Bigelow said her friend was crying and was “absolutely hysterical.” She told her that her foot was bleeding because Gulbertson “had stomped on it.”

Morrow asked Bigelow to take her to the emergency room.

Then on June 1, 2009, she drove Morrow to the Freeborn County courthouse where Morrow testified at a hearing to have an order of protection put in place against Gulbertson. The order was granted.

Afterward, when Bigelow was standing with Morrow outside the courtroom, she heard Gulbertson say to Morrow, “Just wait, I’ll get you.”

She said closer to the time of her friend’s death, Morrow had developed another friend, who Bigelow referred to as Bill, through She said Morrow told her that they had started out as friends but that the relationship was growing deeper.

Gulbertson’s lawyer Grant Sanders questioned whether this was the reason Morrow wanted the order for protection that would force Gulbertson to move him and his things out of the trailer.

Bigelow said it could have been a reason but not the sole reason.

The friend said the last time she talked to Morrow was the evening of June 20, 2009, in a chat room on a gaming Web site. She and her friend were making plans for the next day, when Bigelow and her son were going to come mow Morrow’s lawn and help her prepare for the visit of her sons the next week. They were to visit for a full month.

Just a few days earlier, on June 18, 2009, she had come to Morrow’s trailer to help her pack up some of Gulbertson’s belongings. She estimated about three-fourths of the belongings in the cluttered trailer belonged to Gulbertson.

Returning Gulbertson’s belongings was a major issue between Morrow and Gulbertson prior to her death. Bigelow noted it was not easy for Morrow to pack his things on her own because of her disability.

During cross examination, Sanders questioned why Morrow was in the dialectical behavior therapy class. Bigelow said Morrow was court ordered to take it because she pleaded guilty to domestic assault in 2007. If she successfully completed the program, the charge would ultimately be dismissed. Ultimately, this was the case.

Sanders also asked Bigelow whether people always act on mean statements they make.

She admitted they don’t always.

He also questioned the friend on the number of keys to the trailer.

Bigelow said she and one of Morrow’s former roommates had a key to Morrow’s trailer, but she didn’t know if Gulbertson had one. She did not know how many copies of the keys Morrow had made for either the front door or side door.

During the course of her testimony Bigelow identified Gulbertson — who now faces five counts of murder, including three first-degree murder charges and two second-degree murder charges, in the death of Morrow — in the courtroom seated in between his lawyers.

He is accused of stabbing Morrow in the neck and bludgeoning her to death with a hammer.

Morrow was a diabetic who had her right leg amputated the previous year and who used a wheelchair or walker to get around.