Sheri Morrow, a cheerful and outgoing army veteran, came to Crestview, Florida with the intention of building a life with her husband, John, and their young daughter.
But in the wee hours of December 5, 1993, his plans tragically came to an end.
At around 4 a.m., police responded to calls that a a freight train hit a woman who was lying on the rails. The victim was ultimately identified as Sheri Morrow, 24.
Officials were not immediately clear if she had positioned herself there or if there had been a foul play, they said. “Accident, suicide or murder” airs Saturdays at 7 / 6c on Oxygen.
The medical examiner’s autopsy revealed Sheri had fractured skull and ribs. The MOE sent blood samples to the laboratory for a toxicological report.
Detectives interviewed Sheri’s husband to find out what happened before his unusual death. Authorities learned that the couple threw a party at their house late into the night.
John told detectives that he and his wife were going through a rough time in their marriage and that they had taken a walk during the evening to discuss it. After their conversation, he returned home and she went to a friend’s house, John told authorities.
By all accounts, Sheri didn’t drink alcohol. But two days after his death, the toxicology report showed his blood alcohol level to be three times the legal limit. The report led officials to consider Sheri’s death to be an alcohol-related accident – or suicide.
Police investigated the couple’s relationship further and learned that John “has at least two girlfriends,” investigators told producers. One of these women was at the party the night Sheri died. At that point, authorities discovered that Sheri had already started divorce proceedings.
The image that emerged of John Moore was that of an “irresponsible young father who basically wanted to live his life the way he wanted to live it,” investigators said.
Then, on December 10, investigators learned that the medical examiner had made a mistake. Sheri’s blood alcohol level was actually 0.00. Investigators wondered if other errors could have been made.
The theory that Sheri had committed suicide by the locomotive didn’t quite fit the detectives. But with no further leads to follow, they closed the case and it was ruled to be a suicide.
However, Lt. Wayne Grandstaff Sr., a former patrol supervisor for the Crestview Police Department, felt it was too early to dismiss the evidence.
“The custodian of the evidence brought me the bag of evidence that I returned,” he said, adding that it contained clothing. “I stuck it in the trunk of my patrol car.”
In 1995, a surprise witness presented new information, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder”. The witness, who was at the party at the Morrow house, told authorities he spoke to John after he returned from walking with Sheri.
The witness said John’s hand was injured and his knuckles were very red and when asked his friend about it he said: Okaloosa County, told producers.
In light of the new statement, the case has been reopened. Authorities have asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Crime Lab in Pensacola to review the first medical examiner’s report.
Based on evidence of blood and the presence of rigor mortis shown in the paramedic report, Jan Johnson, retired Florida Law Enforcement Crime Lab analyst, concluded Sheri “was already dead” when the train struck.
Forensic findings and traces of blood from evidence of clothing kept in the trunk of Grandstaff’s car, along with new witness statements, were found to be critical in the new investigation.
The engineer and conductor of another train passing through Crestview around midnight on December 5, 1993 saw two people, a tall man in a dark trench coat and a woman, walking along the tracks at midnight the night of Sheri’s death, authorities learned. When she was found, John’s trench coat covered Sheri’s body.
A few months after the case reopened, a man who attended the party, Steven Meek, told police John told him he planned to take her to the train tracks and kill her, said investigators told producers.
In April 1997, Sherie’s body was exhumed so that a second autopsy can be performed. He revealed that Sheri’s hyoid bone had been fractured, indicating that she had been strangled.
An injury to the back of the head that was not documented in the original report was also found. “I believe the injury to the back of the scalp allowed him to fall but not die, which then necessitated the strangulation,” said Dr Michael Berkland, Okaloosa County medical examiner.
In a follow-up interview with police, Meek said John told her he hit his wife, hit her head against the train tracks and strangled her before covering her with her trench coat.
Hoping to capture a confession from John, Meek agreed to drop a wire and record a conversation with his friend over lunch. But Meek immediately told John it was a trap.
Investigators rushed to bring John in for questioning. He denied the murder of his wife and said he learned of her death from law enforcement. Despite his repeated denials, John was charged with Sheri’s murder four years after her death.
As prosecutors prepared to present the case to a grand jury, Meek again flipped the script on them. He claimed that what he told officials earlier about John telling him about his wife’s murder was a lie.
At this point, the police decided to arrest Meek as an accessory to murder after the fact, Elmore said. Ultimately, during a grand jury proceeding, Meek said John confessed that he killed his wife.
At trial, the main argument of the defense lawyers was that Meek, the main witness, was a known liar. This was an obstacle for the prosecutors who also had to correct the errors of the first autopsy.
During deliberation, the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict for first degree murder. The panel came back with a second degree murder verdict.
In September 1999, the judge used his discretion, depending on the circumstances of the case, to sentence outside the guidelines from seven to 22 years. John Morrow was sentenced to life in prison.
To learn more about the case, watch “Accident, suicide or murder” aeration Saturdays To 7 / 6c to Oxygen, or broadcast episodes here.