HARRISONBURG — Carl William Morris II went to the Martin's pharmacy at 400 Gateway Drive in Frederick County on Jan. 18 to pick up groceries in anticipation of a snowstorm, according to his attorney.
He left with four bottles of painkillers taken at gunpoint from a clerk, then fired two shots at another Martin's employee who followed him into the parking lot. Morris was arrested a short time later.
On Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg, the 44-year-old Morris was sentenced to up to 11½ years imprisonment on federal robbery and discharging a firearm during a felony charges. The latter charge carried a 10-year mandatory minimum. Morris was prosecuted at the federal level as part of a crackdown on gun crimes. Offenders receive stiffer sentences under federal guidelines.
Morris, of the 100 block of Abrams Pointe Road in Frederick County, faced a sentencing guidelines recommendation of a minimum of 12 years and three months and a maximum of 12 years and nine months. Given the violence of the crime, the prosecution said it would be "unreasonable" to sentence below guidelines.
Morris was filmed on store surveillance video demanding painkillers and displaying a pistol in his waistband during the robbery. The video then shows Martin’s employee Kyla Evans walking out to the sidewalk of the store shortly after Morris fled. She ducks and then a plume of smoke is shown from a bullet that landed near her.
"The defendant engaged in a crime of violence that miraculously didn't end in a serious bodily injury or death," Thomas T. Cullen, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, and Jeb Terrien, an assistant U.S. attorney, wrote in a sentencing memorandum to Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon. "It is truly fortunate that no one was physically injured. However, the defendant left significant and lasting emotional scars."
Cullen and Terrien cited the emotional trauma of the pharmacy clerk, who they didn't name. The woman has sought $14,151 in restitution for the therapy undergone since the robbery.
"My mom, who has always been the strongest person I know, my best friend, went to someone living in constant fear and panic," the woman's son wrote to Dillon. "She is trying so hard to get back to that person, but I can see that there is something holding her back."
Cullen and Terrien said Morris' addiction couldn't justify his actions, noting most addicts don't commit armed robberies to feed their habits. "A significant sentence is essential to remind this defendant and others that crimes of violence, particularly gun violence, will not be tolerated by the courts but will be punished severely," Cullen and Terrien wrote.
However, Andrea L. Harris, the assistant federal public defender representing Morris, said while his crime was "abhorrent" a 10-year sentence was sufficient. She said his criminal record consisted of a couple of misdemeanor driving under the influence and hit-and-run convictions 10 to 15 years ago.
Harris said Morris was working as a Department of Defense contractor at the U.S. embassy in Bogata, Colombia, when he injured his back moving boxes at the embassy. He bought OxyContin, which is sold over the counter in Colombia, and quickly got hooked. He also snorted cocaine to counter the depressant effect of the OxyContin.
Within a few weeks of returning to the U.S., Morris committed the robbery, which she said wasn't planned, but was due to painful opioid withdrawal symptoms. She said Morris was intoxicated during the robbery. He registered a 0.15 blood alcohol content — nearly twice the legal drinking limit — in a portable breath test given by police after being arrested.
"It is clear that this offense was aberrant behavior and was entirely out of character for him," Harris said. "Though it may be of little comfort to the victims here, Mr. Morris has been remorseful for the pain he has caused them since the day of his arrest and he hopes that his prosecution will somehow bring them relief."
Upon release, Morris will be on three years of supervised probation. He is to undergo drug treatment and drug testing and cannot live in a home with guns.