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Morrissey preps for trial that could be ‘career-ender’

Jeremy Lazarus | 12/16/2014, 5:55 a.m.
On Friday, Dec. 12, Delegate Morrissey pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

There will be no trial. On Friday, Dec. 12, Delegate Morrissey pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was sentenced to serve three months in work release at the Richmond City Jail, allowing him to remain a General Assembly member and to keep his law license.

Delegate Joseph D. Morrissey is preparing to put his future in the hands of 12 strangers.

Next Monday, if all goes as scheduled, he will be in court as 12 people are chosen as jurors who will decide whether the flamboyant 57-year-old legislator illegally engaged in a sexual liaison with a minor.

The minor, who was 17 at the time, was a receptionist at his Highland Springs law office.

After a projected week of testimony, it will be up to the panel in Henrico County Circuit Court ultimately to determine if the bachelor father of three lands in prison or continues to represent the 74th House District that includes parts of Richmond and Henrico and Charles City counties.

Delegate Morrissey has proclaimed his innocence. He even rejected a prosecution offer to end the case by pleading no contest to a misdemeanor.

Instead, the combative lawmaker dubbed “Fighting Joe” for his aggressive manner in court is gambling that the jury will clear him of soliciting, possessing and distributing a nude photo of the girl via cell phone — all three felonies under a state law banning child pornography.

The indictment that a special grand jury issued June 30 also charges the delegate with a fourth felony — having sex with a minor under his supervision. He also is charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor.

“I will win because I will be vindicated. I will be vindicated because of the facts and because of the evidence,” Delegate Morrissey declared after the indictment was issued, a stance he has maintained heading to the trial.

The delegate has declared the nude photo of the girl that authorities discovered on cell phones owned by him and the teen, now 18, were put there by a jealous woman who “was in love” with the teen and who hacked into their phones.

“Our experts have uncovered the hacking device, the serial number and the texts,” he said.

William F. Neely, the commonwealth’s attorney for Spotsylvania County who was appointed to handle the case, has said that neither he nor the police “found any evidence of hacking. Period.”

Still, Mr. Neely has noted that the case he will present will be based in large measure on the text messages and the photos from the delegate and alleged victim’s cell phone, particularly as Delegate Morrissey’s alleged lover has mostly issued public claims that there was no sexual relationship.

According to the bill of particulars Mr. Neely distributed with the indictment, the delegate sent text messages to the alleged victim confirming their “sexual liaison” and requesting a nude photograph “to help him fantasize about their next encounter.”

The girl allegedly responded with the nude photo that the delegate then is alleged to have sent to a friend.