Witness: Defendant in trailer park night before

Published 12:52 pm Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Homicide defendant pleads not guilty

Morrow suffered 18 blows, 3 stabs

Grand jury indicts Gulbertson

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Gulbertson has a troubled past

Gulbertson charged with murder

Jody Morrow was ‘fun-loving’

Death called ‘suspicious’

A former resident of the Rainbow Terrace trailer park, who lived down the street from Jody Lee Morrow, testified Tuesday morning at the Rice County Courthouse that he saw murder suspect Chad Jamie Gulbertson come around some bushes and into the trailer park just after midnight the day Morrow was killed.

Morrow had gotten an order for protection against Gulbertson earlier that month and was ordered to have no contact with her.

During the second day of testimony in the homicide jury trial against Gulbertson, the witness, Daniel Thorpe, formerly of 503 Larimore Circle, explained what he saw late June 20 and early June 21, 2009, after he got off work at Dairy Queen, on Broadway Avenue.

He said he left the restaurant at about midnight June 21, after which his supervisor gave him a ride home. He was dropped off in front of his driveway at what he estimated to be 12:05 a.m. when he saw what he described as a silhouette go from the trailer court to the field near his residence, in what was an often-traveled way to the court for people who lived there.

A short while later, he heard rustling in the bushes and saw Gulbertson go in from the field into the trailer park. He estimated he was 10 to 15 feet away. Gulbertson was wearing pants and a leather jacket and was on foot.

Thorpe said at the time he didn’t think much of it because he knew Gulbertson had lived at a trailer there for some time with Morrow.

It wasn’t until the next day when he saw that Morrow’s house was blocked off with crime scene tape and police surrounded the trailer that he decided he should tell authorities what he saw.

He was interviewed by police that day and also was interviewed later in a recorded interview.

Thorpe said he had seen Gulbertson a number of times before but had never talked to him. He didn’t say anything to him that night either, and he doesn’t know whether Gulbertson saw him, he noted.

He said he did not see Gulbertson enter Morrow’s trailer.

One of Gulbertson’s lawyers, Grant Sanders, questioned whether there would have been shadows that night that could have interfered with what Thorpe saw.

While Thorpe recognized there would have been some shadows, he said there was a street light just on the other side of the bushes that illuminated the area.

The day before

Another witness, Sandra Nash of Court Street in Albert Lea, testified about Gulbertson’s whereabouts June 20, 2009.

She said Gulbertson visited her house two times that day and once in the early morning hours of June 21, 2009.

The two were casual friends, who had known each other through the Cedar House, a day-treatment facility for mental health issues, Nash said. Gulbertson had many friends there and was personable.

She said Gulbertson started coming over to her house about two weeks before Morrow’s death.

On June 20, 2009, she said she and Gulbertson watched movies at her home. They had a few beers over the course of the time.

After his first visit, Gulbertson told her he’d be back before supper.

During the second visit, he told her he was thinking about going over to Morrow’s to get his jewelry-making tools, Nash testified. He told her Morrow was keeping his  belongings and wouldn’t let him have them.

Nash noted she told Gulbertson to get police to go with him because Morrow had a restraining order against him, and he said he had already tried that.

He told her he had an extra key Morrow didn’t know about that he could use, Nash said. He also said he knew Morrow would have already taken her sleep medication and that she’s a heavy sleeper.

A while later he left. Nash said he was sober.

She estimated she went to bed at least by midnight and then at 1 or 2 a.m., he returned when she was already asleep. She said she heard Gulbertson yell out her name, but she didn’t wake up or respond to him.

Sanders pointed out time discrepancies in Nash’s testimony, which varied at times throughout.

Through Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Bill Klumpp’s questions, Nash emphasized she went to bed by at least midnight and that Gulbertson came back the third time after that.

Rainbow Terrace park manager MaryAnne Jensen testified she was unsure whether Gulbertson had a key to the trailer. When Morrow got the trailer, she was given whatever keys were on the ring — Jensen didn’t know how many. Then it would have been up to Morrow to make any extra key copies if she needed them.

She noted that prior to any adult moving into a trailer in the park, that person has to submit an application — which includes a background check conducted by the owner, Jensen said. Gulbertson did submit an application and was approved.

She said she did not know Gulbertson well and tried to stay out of people’s personal business. She just knew — from Morrow — that Gulbertson was no longer living at the trailer at the time she was killed.

Neither Thorpe nor Jensen recognized Gulbertson in the courtroom during their testimony. They identified him by an evidence photo, where he was seen with long hair and with facial hair.

In the courtroom Tuesday, Gulbertson had short, parted hair and no facial hair. He was in dark blue suit with a shirt and tie. His face is also fuller than at the time of his arrest.

He faces five murder charges, including first-degree and second-degree charges in Morrow’s death. He is accused of stabbing Morrow in the neck and bludgeoning her to death with a hammer.