Man who harbored corpse now charged with premeditated murder

Published 5:26 pm Thursday, March 24, 2022

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Staff Reports
The man who had the corpse of a missing Carter County resident in his home was charged with premeditated murder this week.
Jacob Allen Morely, 23, was bound over Wednesday to a Carter County grand jury on seven charges, including premeditated murder, aggravated burglary, theft of property over $1,000, tampering with evidence, abuses of a corpse, and evading arrest.
Morley was originally charged with first-degree murder in the death of Cody Birchfield, but the charge was upgraded to premeditated murder after an autopsy revealed Birchfield had been shot in the back of the head.
In a preliminary hearing that included more than three hours of testimony from several Carter County Sheriff’s Office investigators and deputies as well as Morley’s girlfriend, Judge Keith Bowers Jr. ruled that the state had provided proof that there was enough probable cause on the murder charge.
Carter County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Jenna Markland testified Wednesday that Birchfield’s family had reported him missing on Feb. 23. Markland had visited Birchfield’s Scott Lane residence where she noticed reddish-brown stains and other material throughout the home that she suspected were drops of blood. A .40-caliber bullet casing with a Hornady imprint was also found inside the home.
Birchfield and Morley were co-workers and were seen together during a bank transaction on a Feb. 18 video, which was around the time of Birchfield’s disappearance. Officials testified Morley had driven Birchfield to and from work until Birchfield’s disappearance.
Carter County Sheriff’s Office Captain Mike Little and Captain Jeff Markland testified that they requested Morley come to the sheriff’s office for an interview. The deputies planned to serve a search warrant on Morley’s truck. However, the deputies were surprised to see Morley arrive in his girlfriend’s Dodge Durango, with his girlfriend, Landra Shepherd, riding in the passenger seat.
During the March 2 interview, Morley told the captains that he had gone to Birchfield’s residence on Feb. 21 to rob him. Morley then said he took Birchfield’s tools, which had Birchfield’s name on them, to his residence.
Little said that he had noticed reddish-brown spots on Morley’s shoes during the interview, at which point the shoes were given to deputies for DNA testing. Morley was allowed to drive home with his girlfriend concluding the interview, where deputies were waiting to execute a search warrant.
When Morley noticed deputies at his home, he drove to Powder Branch Baptist Church, where there were other deputies stationed. Morley lowered his speed in the church parking lot to let his girlfriend out of the car, and began what would become a multi-state high speed chase.
The pursuit took deputies throughout Carter County and along Highway 19E into Roan Mountain and to the North Carolina state line, where Avery County Sheriff’s deputies deployed spike strips and disabled the vehicle. Morley proceeded to flee on foot, but was captured by the Avery County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies said that a .22-caliber rifle and a .40-caliber pistol were found inside of the vehicle.
Morley’s girlfriend gave deputies consent to search his residence, where deputies found Hornady brand  .40-caliber ammunition inside. Underneath the rear entrance to the residence, deputies found a large metal box containing a corpse that was identified as Birchfield.
Bowers set Morley’s bond at $500,000, keeping him in pretrial confinement. The defendant is scheduled to appear in Criminal Court on May 23.

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