Gulbertson found guilty, gets life

Published 4:10 pm Saturday, May 1, 2010

A 12-member jury on Friday found Chad Jamie Gulbertson guilty of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder in the death of his ex-girlfriend Jody Lee Morrow in June of 2009.

The verdict came just before 4:30 p.m., after nine days of testimony and at least 12 hours of deliberation, plus a night of sequestration at a hotel.

As the court clerk read the verdict for each count, Gulbertson stared ahead and showed no emotion. The room was silent.

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Out of the five charges Gulbertson faced, the jury found him guilty of first-degree murder while committing domestic abuse, second-degree intentional murder and second-degree murder while violating an order for protection. They found him not guilty of first-degree murder with premeditation and first-degree murder while committing a burglary.

Morrow’s family members present for the verdict said the jury’s decision brought them peace and closure.

“I’m glad it’s over because now we can all remember Jody,” her sister Brandy Van Skike said. “We can also deal with her loss now — her being taken from us.”

Morrow, 38, was discovered dead in her trailer at 730 Larimore Circle on June 21, 2009, after Gulbertson reportedly went to the Law Enforcement Center in Albert Lea and told police he thought he killed his ex-girlfriend.

She died from blunt-force injuries to the head, receiving at least 18 blows with a hammer, and also had three stab wounds with a knife.

Earlier that month, Gulbertson had been instructed through an order for protection to have no contact with Morrow and not be at her residence, among other stipulations. The order came after several years of domestic disturbances at the trailer, according to police testimony in the trial.

“We’re all glad a jury verdict has reached finality in this case,” said Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson, who worked with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office to prosecute the case.

Nelson said he thinks the jury made the right findings after diligently looking over and considering the evidence presented in trial. On more than one occasion, the jurors came back into the courtroom to ask a question and even replay two phone calls.

The type of murder that came before them was one that was especially “graphic and brutal,” he said.

At sentencing, Gulbertson says he will write book

Jury requests to listen to two phone calls again

Jury begins deliberations in Gulbertson case

Man and woman accused of murdering Morrow deny involvement

He thanked the Albert Lea Police Department investigators and agents from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for their work to bring the case forward.

Click here to read about the sentencing.

It involved dozens of interviews, multiple searches, analyses and other preparatory work.

The interviews started the day of Morrow’s murder, when Gulbertson came to the Law Enforcement Center to report the act.

During his interview that day, Gulbertson held out his wrists on more than one occasion and asked the officers to cuff him. He told authorities he thought he had killed Morrow with a hammer.

Throughout the days and months that followed, however, details of that story changed.

In a phone conversation with his father on June 25, 2009, he said Morrow had first hit him in the hand with a hammer and that her death was in self-defense.

On later accounts, Gulbertson stated Morrow came after him with a knife and that he fell back and grabbed a hammer.

In court Wednesday, Gulbertson’s story changed again as he testified that he did not kill Morrow, but that he had actually witnessed her murder while two others stabbed her and hit her over the head with a hammer.

He said he had only told his lawyers about this three or four days prior to the testimony.

Prosecutors questioned the change in story and why Gulbertson might have initially took the blame for something he did not do.

Gulbertson testified he felt responsible for the other two people being at Morrow’s trailer and that prison didn’t faze him. He said he also didn’t want one of the people to go to prison.

He testified his story also backed up the fact that the police did not find any of Morrow’s blood on his clothes when he was arrested.

Prosecutors argued this was because Gulbertson had cleaned up and disposed of his bloody clothes before he went into the Law Enforcement Center.

They also rebutted Gulbertson’s testimony about two others being responsible for the murder by having the two accused return to the stand.

Gulbertson’s lawyers Kevin Riha and Grant Sanders, along with Nelson, noted their appreciation to a jury that was willing to take the time to listen to all the evidence presented and then deliberate thoughtfully. Many of the jurors were involved three weeks, including jury selection.

“I think it’s a real tragedy for both families …” Riha said of his reaction to the verdict. “There are no winners and losers. In this matter it seems like everyone loses.”

Van Skike said even though it has almost been a year since Morrow’s death, she is still shocked by it.

“There’s no doubt about it. Jody’s always going to be missed and she’s never going to be forgotten,” she said.