Crime

Jury will rule on lawyer's sanity

Mental health experts offered differing opinions Monday on whether former Fresno attorney Gregory Arthur Morris was insane at the time he stole thousands of dollars from his clients.

The three court-appointed experts already had testified about Morris' mental health during the two-week trial in which jurors found Morris, 54, guilty of three counts of grand theft. Prosecutors said Morris, a former millionaire personal injury lawyer, negotiated civil settlement agreements for his clients without their permission and then kept most or all of the money himself.

But because Morris had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, his trial did not end with the verdicts. The same jurors who convicted him returned to Fresno County Superior Court on Monday to hear Morris' defense attorney, J. Tony Serra, argue that his client was temporarily insane between 2002 and 2004, when the crimes occurred.

"He did not have sufficient mentality to know what the heck he was doing," Serra told jurors.

Insanity defenses are rare, and it is even more rare for jurors to find a defendant not guilty by reason of insanity.

To find Morris insane, jurors must determine that he suffered from a mental health problem and that the problem made him unable to understand his actions or to understand that he was committing an illegal or immoral act. The defense must prove that Morris likely was insane at the time of the crimes.

Jurors begin deliberations today.

Two decades ago, Morris reigned over a legal empire that stretched across six states. Then in 1992, a twin-engine plane carrying Morris and his family crashed in the barren plains of New Mexico, killing his wife and injuring Morris, his children and two others. Morris suffered a brain injury.

All three mental health experts who testified Monday agreed that Morris suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, at least in part because of the plane crash.

A psychologist, Laura Geiger, said Morris also suffered from dementia, major depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Geiger and psychiatrist Luis Velosa concluded that Morris was insane at the time of the crimes.

Only psychologist Harold Seymour disagreed, saying that despite Morris' mental health problems, he was still aware of what he was doing when he stole the money.

"My opinion is that he knew his actions and understood the nature of his actions and knew the difference between right and wrong," Seymour said.

Velosa, however, told jurors that he believes that "the severity of [Morris'] clinical symptoms was such that he did not have a full understanding of his acts."

Serra urged jurors to dismiss Seymour's assessment, saying the psychologist is underqualified and also spent too little time examining Morris.

But prosecutor Roger Wilson said Seymour was the only expert witness who conducted a proper evaluation.

Wilson said Seymour considered the complex steps Morris took to steal his clients' money and then determined that Morris was sane at the time.

If found to be sane, Morris could face up to three years and four months in prison, though he would receive credit for the two years he already has served in the Fresno County Jail. If found to be insane, Morris could be held in a mental health facility for the same amount of time he would have served in prison.

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