Eighth Ward urges Morris probe
by Timothy Cwiek
May 29, 2014 | 516 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Eighth Ward Democratic Executive Committee has sent a letter to Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane and District Attorney R. Seth Williams, urging a state probe into the Nizah Morris case.

Morris was a transgender woman who became a homicide victim in 2002, shortly after entering a police vehicle for a Center City “courtesy ride.” The crime remains unsolved.

Efforts to elicit details of the incident have been stymied by missing 911 transmissions, a redacted police report, a lost homicide file and an incomplete time-response log.

The Eighth Ward is a political subdivision — largely in Center City west of Broad — that serves as a conduit to party leadership. It’s also a source of information during campaigns and elections.

After Morris sustained a fractured skull, she was found prostrate on a street corner in the Eighth Ward.

About 30 committeepeople attended a ward meeting in March, and voted unanimously to support a state probe into Morris’ death.

Their May 7 letter urges cooperation between Williams and Kane.

“We believe that a renewed investigation by the Attorney General’s Office will promote public confidence in the administration of justice in both the commonwealth and the city, and also assure citizens belonging to the LGBT community that law enforcement in the commonwealth is equal for all, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” the letter stated.

The letter was signed by state Sen. Lawrence M. Farnese Jr. (D-First Dist.), who’s the Eighth Ward leader.

“We urge the commonwealth to conduct a fair, thorough and outside investigation into the death of Nizah Morris,” the letter continued. “We urge D.A. Williams to request that investigation and to give his full support and cooperation to it.”

Charles P. Goodwin, an Eighth Ward committeeperson who helped compose the letter, said a cooperative effort between Williams and Kane stands the best chance of success.

Other groups have called for a state probe, regardless of Williams’ cooperation. They say there’s sufficient evidence pointing to a local cover-up to warrant Kane’s involvement.

“Legally, we think our approach has the better chance of success,” Goodwin told PGN.

He emphasized that the ward isn’t suggesting that local officials engaged in any wrongdoing in the Morris case.

“We’re not suggesting that the police or D.A.’s Office did anything wrong. But there are questions out there, and the case merits another look. There needs to be some type of definitive report. Maybe everybody did do their job, and something horrible happened. But just to clear the air, we think it’s beneficial to have a final investigation from an outside perspective. There are questions about police conduct and prosecutorial conduct, and those questions should get laid to rest.”

Babette Josephs, a former state representative and an Eighth Ward committeeperson, expressed support for the letter. But she also said Kane should move forward with a probe if Williams doesn’t cooperate.

“It’s imperative for Ms. Kane to review the Morris case, and to make her findings available to the public. If Seth Williams will cooperate, all the better. But if he won’t, there’s enough evidence of a local cover-up for Ms. Kane to initiate a probe, without his cooperation,” she said. “State law allows for that, when the local D.A.’s Office has abused its discretion. Whatever route is taken, clearly we need a proper investigation of the Nizah Morris case. Pennsylvanians deserve no less.”

By presstime, neither Kane nor Williams had responded to the letter.

Meanwhile, members of the Justice for Nizah (J4N) committee continue to seek support from various groups for a state probe into the case. Their next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 30 at the William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St. The public is invited to attend.

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