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'Hit him': Texas judge used electric shocks to punish sex offender, who now gets new trial

Jeff Caplan and Mitch Mitchell, Fort Worth Star-Telegram on

Published in News & Features

The bailiff pressed the button that was to send the electric shock through Morris' body. Gallagher asked him again if he was going to comply. Morris told him he had a history of mental illness. Gallagher ordered another shock.

"Hit him again," Gallagher said.

When Morris contended he was being "tortured" for seeking a recusal, Gallagher, according to the appeals court, ordered the bailiff to do it again: "Would you hit him again?"

The appeals court said that 50,000 volts can have cognitive impairment effects on a defendant. Morris' condition after the three shocks was not reported in the court's opinion, however.

Ray, the attorney for Morris, told Texas Lawyer that he doesn't believe the stun belts were actually functioning and that Morris was not really shocked.

"And oddly enough, the shock collar didn't work," Ray said. "That was the second trial I had where they didn't hook the shock collar up properly. I know it says he was getting electrocuted, but they didn't shock him."

On top of that, Ray said Morris was behaving like a "loaded cannon ready to go off."

Ray told the Star-Telegram that he said he was afraid that Morris "would do something that might have gotten him hurt a lot worse.

"And Judge Gallagher is not the kind of person who is mean to people," Ray said.

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However, El Paso's 8th Court of Appeals ruled that Gallagher shocked Morris as punishment and not for security reasons.

"Never before have we seen behavior like this, nor do we hope to ever see such behavior again," Rodriguez wrote. "As the circumstances of this case perfectly illustrate, the potential for abuse in the absence of an explicit prohibition on nonsecurity use of stun belts exists and must be deterred."

Gallagher later stated for the record that he was concerned by Morris' agitation and movements, suggesting he was within reach of a 200-pound wall-mounted courtroom video monitor that he could have pulled off and used to injure attorneys in the courtroom.

"It was based on the totality of his continuing escalation and his movements that the court ordered the shock belt be initiated," Gallagher said at the time, according to Texas Lawyer. "It was done for the safety of the lawyers and all of the participants."

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