Crime

Bond denied for Rock Hill teen accused of setting fire that killed brother

Jacob Morgan cries during his bond hearing Wednesday in York. He is accused of setting the fire that killed his 14-month-old half-brother.
Jacob Morgan cries during his bond hearing Wednesday in York. He is accused of setting the fire that killed his 14-month-old half-brother. tkulmala@heraldonline.com

A judge will examine 10 years of files pertaining to 17-year-old Jacob Morgan and what prosecutors called a “long and painful involvement” with social services and law enforcement before deciding if the Rock Hill teen should be given bond on arson and murder charges.

Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III denied bond Wednesday for Morgan, who is charged with murder and arson in the death of his 14-month-old brother, Joshua. The toddler died in the March 6 fire at the family’s Catawba Church Road home southeast of Rock Hill. Morgan was outside the home when authorities arrived, and was charged several days later after he and his parents were interviewed by detectives.

“I’m reserving the right to amend, modify or change that ruling after I’ve reviewed the records,” Hayes said, referring to the two binders that prosecutors say paint a picture of Morgan’s troubled past.

Sixteenth Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said the binders, each several inches thick, contain school records and files associated with Morgan from the Department of Social Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice that go back 10 years.

“It reveals a long and painful involvement with the defendant, which has continuously deteriorated over the last 10 years despite the best efforts of the school system, the Department of Social Services and all the different social welfare groups the defendant has been involved with,” Brackett said.

Those files include “numerous” referrals for outpatient psychiatric treatment that resulted in diagnoses of bipolar disorder, oppositional defiance disorder and anti-social personality disorder, Brackett said. They also include police records from multiple calls to law enforcement after Morgan allegedly threatened and, in some cases attacked, family members.

Brackett said Morgan’s mother called law enforcement to report the incidents, and that when his parents tried to discipline him, he would call DSS to report abuse. He added that while Morgan is in the “borderline to low intelligence,” the teen is “smarter than he lets on.”

“I believe that is an attempt to manipulate this court and the public opinion in an effort to gain sympathy,” he said. “I don’t believe that he is, based on the records that I’ve seen, as intellectually disabled as he claims.”

Brackett asked Hayes to consider a mental evaluation for Morgan. When asked by Hayes if he sees a need for a mental evaluation, 16th Circuit Deputy Public Defender B.J. Barrowclough said he’s submitted an order for a mental health expert.

“His problems, to me, from a lay point of view, I think are more emotional than intellectual,” Barrowclough said, adding that he would like an expert to “explore” those problems and determine if a mental evaluation is needed.

Barrowclough said Morgan is not a danger to the community and has no prior record.

“There’s numerous people who have talked about him and know him as a good kid,” he said. “He’s more of a danger to himself in custody. He’s been on suicide watch twice since he was locked up.”

Check back later for more details from court.

Teddy Kulmala •  803-329-4082

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