KSLA Investigates: Authorities determined she killed herself; years later, her daughter still insists it was a homicide

KSLA Investigates: Authorities say she killed herself; 7 years later, her daughter still insists it was a homicide
Dennisa Morgan, who lived at home with her parents, still insists that someone killed her mother and suspects her father, who never was considered a suspect, fired the gun that took Martha Morgan's life. (Source: KSLA News 12)
Dennisa Morgan, who lived at home with her parents, still insists that someone killed her mother and suspects her father, who never was considered a suspect, fired the gun that took Martha Morgan's life. (Source: KSLA News 12)
Dennis Morgan
Dennis Morgan
Caddo Coroner Dr. Todd Thoma stands by his office's finding. “My heart goes out to that family, always has. But there has to be a time you heal and go on about your life.” (Source: KSLA News 12)
Caddo Coroner Dr. Todd Thoma stands by his office's finding. “My heart goes out to that family, always has. But there has to be a time you heal and go on about your life.” (Source: KSLA News 12)
John Underhill, a former police chief, says Dennisa Morgan raises some valid issues. "You check the bullet and you do a forensic analysis to see if that gun is the same gun that was utilized at the scene. That’s CSI 101." (Source: KSLA News 12)
John Underhill, a former police chief, says Dennisa Morgan raises some valid issues. "You check the bullet and you do a forensic analysis to see if that gun is the same gun that was utilized at the scene. That’s CSI 101." (Source: KSLA News 12)

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Just days after her birthday seven years ago, a single gunshot wound to the chest took Martha Morgan's life.

The bullet shot at close range from a .38-caliber gun never exited the 64-year-old Shreveport woman's body as she reportedly bled to death alone in her bedroom on Oleander Drive.

No one heard the fatal gunshot.

But her husband, Dennis Morgan, called 911 that February afternoon, hysterically telling the operator: "Oh, no! My wife just committed suicide," according to a recording of that call.

He told authorities that he found his wife dead and called 911 shortly after returning home from running errands and doing some yardwork, police records show.

Shreveport police found Martha Morgan with a gash to her head and the bullet wound to her chest and lying on her stomach next to a bed near that bedroom door.

An investigation by police and Caddo coroner's office ruled her death as a suicide.

Martha Morgan's daughter Dennisa Morgan, who lived at home with her parents, immediately began to have doubts.

"Words can't express how hard it is. There's not enough words in the English language to describe it."

To this day, the grieving daughter is convinced her mother was slain.

And Dennisa Morgan thinks her father, who never was considered a suspect, fired the gun that took Martha Morgan's life

Dennisa Morgan claims Shreveport police and other investigative officials mishandled the case.

"They strictly took his word," she said, referring to her father's claims that Martha Morgan committed suicide.

"I feel betrayed and let down by the Police Department. They had one job to do, and they did not follow protocol."

Since her mother's death, Dennisa Morgan has become a one-woman homicide department compiling official reports, crime scene photographs and independent examinations in hopes of convincing authorities to re-investigate her mother's death.

"I've got experts backing me up that it's a homicide," Dennisa Morgan said. "They did not treat it as they're supposed to. All gunshots are treated like a homicide until proven otherwise."

Dr. Todd Thoma, the Caddo coroner who personally worked Martha Morgan's death, disagrees.

"Every case we go into, violent death like this one, it's a homicide until proven otherwise. We work it backward and convince ourselves why it isn't suicide."

Reluctant at first to talk about the case, Thoma agreed to sit down and discuss what the evidence told him about Martha Morgan's death.

"I can almost reconstruct, based on forensics and scientific evidence, Mrs. Morgan sat on the bed with her purse next to her, gun probably in her purse," the coroner explained.

"She proceeded to make the decision to commit suicide, lifted her shirt and breast and shot herself in the chest."

Thoma's further explanation of the shooting is where Dennisa Morgan's doubts amplify.

"All the evidence shows that she sat there as she bled to death," the coroner said.

"Blood evidence was clear that it pooled in her lap, smear spots on her thighs, and it dripped down her legs and onto the floor."

Martha Morgan passed out after a couple minutes and fell to the floor behind the closed bedroom door, where she died, Thoma said.

"Once I left that scene, I felt very confident it was a homicide," the coroner said.

He further pointed to the fact Martha Morgan had been evaluated two months earlier for alleged suicidal thoughts and diagnosed with adjustment disorder brought on by stress.

Dennisa Morgan admits her mother made comments that day regarding suicide but regretted them immediately and did not mean them.

Martha Morgan was under stress from repeated domestic abuse, the daughter said, allegedly at the hands of Dennis Morgan.

"That day he was pushing her, threatening her."

A scene of hostility Dennisa Morgan claims to have witnessed hundreds of times.

In fact, records indicate Dennis Morgan was placed on supervised probation and ordered to attend a court-ordered family violence counseling program following an incident in 2003.

Convinced that domestic violence played a role in Martha Morgan's death, her daughter says she told police about her father's alleged history of abuse but feels investigators never paid her concerns much attention.

Police did, however, take a statement from Dennis Morgan the day his wife was fatally shot.

The upset husband, according to the report, provided credible alibis that he was running errands in the morning and raking leaves in the afternoon.

This even though the officer noted that Dennis Morgan was "relatively clean for having been working in the yard."

Law enforcement officers made no further contact for three months.

That's when the lead investigator called Dennis Morgan to ask that he come to police headquarters in Shreveport to verify statements he previously made regarding Martha Morgan's death.

A report of that call states that Dennis Morgan responded by saying: "I'm tired of dealing with this situation and wish to be left alone."

There are no indications whether investigators ever spoke with him again.

KSLA Investigates tracked Dennis Morgan down by phone, calling his home in Texas, asking to speak about the case, offering to give him the final word.

The 67-year-old man said he did not want to talk about Martha Morgan or her death then hung up the phone.

Dennisa Morgan's criticism of the death investigation does not end with her claim that police paid too little attention to an alleged history of domestic abuse.

The daughter also questions:

  • why ballistics test never was done on the bullet,
  • why her mother’s and father’s hands never were tested for gunpowder residue, and,
  • why the gun was not initially checked for fingerprints or DNA evidence.

Through a series of four e-mails, KSLA Investigates tried setting up interviews with the lead investigator to determine how he determined that Martha Morgan committed suicide.

All requests were denied.

So KSLA Investigates consulted law enforcement expert and private investigator John Underhill, a former police chief in California.

Dennisa Morgan is raising valid issues about how some evidence in the case was handled, he said.

"You check the bullet and you do a forensic analysis to see if that gun is the same gun that was utilized at the scene. That's CSI 101."

Underhill also said residue tests are important because questions of suicide versus homicide often are raised after the initial phase of an investigation.

But Thoma, the Caddo coroner, says gunshot residue tests that are admissible in court are expensive.

"It's done through electron microscopy, and there has to be a high enough index of suspicion to do that," Thoma said, stating that Martha Morgan's death did not meet that threshold.

Underhill says that is a major problem in law enforcement today, especially when it comes to analyzing evidence in some death cases.

"We have a lot of evidence that won't be processed because of costs."

Thoma's confidence that Martha Morgan killed herself is unwavering when the entire set of facts and evidence are considered.

"This is the largest file I have as a coroner because we've reopened this case so many times," Thoma said.

"My heart goes out to that family, always has. But there has to be a time you heal and go on about your life."

Dennisa Morgan says she wants to grieve her mother's loss and heal, but that will forever remain impossible unless a new thorough investigation is launched.

"It's frustrating," she says. "The crime scene does not match the officials' rendition of events."

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