Guilty or not guilty. For the better part of two weeks, those words have been on the minds of everyone watching the trial of Enrique Arochi, the man charged with the aggravated kidnapping of UTD alumna Christina Morris.
On Sept. 21, after 17 hours of deliberation, a Collin County jury announced their verdict: guilty.
The answers offered by prosecutors and the defense team for Arochi in their closing statements on Sept. 20 laid out two vastly different explanations for the events that occured in the early morning hours of Aug. 30, 2014, the last time anyone saw Morris.
The prosecution, led by Zeke Fortenberry and Lisa Milasky King, stated their case in no uncertain terms.
“On Aug. 30, (2014), this defendant kidnapped Christina Morris and that’s what the facts said,” Fortenberry said.
The defense on the other hand, led by Keith Gore, painted the prosecution as having too many theories about what happened that night.
Gore asked the jury to consider whether or not the Plano police department had an agenda in trying to focus in on Arochi as their prime suspect rather than others like Hunter Foster, Morris’ boyfriend who got sentenced to nearly three years in prison on drug charges earlier this year. He also also the jury to consider someone from the Aryan Brotherhood, who investigators looked into after an inmate in the Cleburne jail said Morris witnessed a crime by the prison gang.
Gore claimed investigators were so convinced that Arochi had been responsible for Morris’ disappearance that they “refused to see the possibility it’s something else.” He also questioned whether investigators had contaminated Arochi’s car with Morris’ DNA when they did conduct their investigation.
Gore asked jurors to “stand (by) the law, guard it.”
“This is not supposed to be an easy process,” he said.
Fortenberry rebutted the defense’s claim that the prosecution needed a “unified theory” of what happened the night Morris disappeared, pointing out at least six different explanations the defense had to account for Morris’ disappearance.
Fortenberry pointed to traces of Morris’ DNA found in Arochi’s trunk, cell phone pings placing his phone and Morris’ phone in the same locations and video surveillance showing Morris and Arochi walking together the night she disappeared as proof Arochi had a role in Morris going missing.
He also pointed out Arochi’s activity during the investigation and how his statements on what happened that night contradicted evidence.
“Tell the defendant, ‘You got your day in court and you’re guilty,'” Fortenberry pleaded to jurors.
The jury’s decision did not come without its bumps in the road. On multiple occasions jurors sent notes to Judge Mark Rusch asking him to clarify facts in the case or to hear certain parts of witness testimony read back to them.
At one point, a juror who had already mentioned health issues earlier in the trial had to be excused and replaced by an alternate juror after she fell ill and had to get help to simply walk in and out of the courtroom.
During the jury’s deliberation, Morris’ friends and family and members of the press waited outside the courtroom for the verdict to be handed down. The first night a large group stayed until past dark as the jury tried to reach a decision to no avail.
Finally, the word crept out the jury made a decision around 6:30 p.m. As family members waited, some bowed their heads in a prayer-like motion, others sat silently. Court bailiffs coated the room to provide extra security as the judge warned the gallery that any outbursts would be considered contempt of court.
Then, just before 7 p.m., the jury read their verdict. Arochi didn’t show any visible expression.
After the judge read his instructions to the jury and dismissed them until sentencing starts Monday morning, Jonni McElroy, Morris’ mother, began to sob.
Family and friends of Morris streamed out of the courtroom, embracing one another and shedding their own tears. The two visitors there for Arochi, on the other hand, quickly and quietly left the courthouse.
Most of Morris’ family is under a gag order to the press until the trial is over since they are still witnesses, but Anna Morris, Christina Morris’ stepmother, spoke briefly to members of the media while surrounded by her somber family.
“We can breathe,” she said. “I feel like the right thing happened. It’s not over. It’s far from over, Christina’s still missing. I hope that this will possibly get us the information we need to bring her home.”
Sentencing is set to begin Monday at 8:30 a.m. Continue following The Mercury for updates.