By Matt Getts
and Steve Garbacz
ALBION — With prosecutors alleging threats and access to substantial outside financial resources, two suspects involved in last week’s 18-pound methamphetamine bust had seven-figure bonds ordered during initial hearings Thursday.
Mark C. Morr, 47, was given a $1 million bond following a contentious afternoon hearing in Noble Superior Court 1.
Justin J. Morr, 21, had his bond set at $1 million by Noble Circuit Court Judge Michael Kramer earlier in the day.
Both will be subject to electronic home monitoring if released on bond. Both will have to come up with $100,000 each in cash to bond out of jail, according to terms announced Thursday.
The two men were among four arrested early Dec. 29 after police raided a residence in the 11400 block of North S.R. 5 and reportedly seized at least 18 pounds of crystal meth, more than 100 pounds of marijuana, more than 60 firearms, about $74,000 in cash and a large amount of property that either was stolen or purchased with drug money.
The total street value of the drugs seized was more than $1 million, authorities estimated.
The Noble County prosecutor’s office filed charges Thursday against Mark Morr and Justin Morr, along with the two others arrested Dec. 29: Sherry A. Morr and Vanessa Kathryn Salas, 21.
During Thursday’s initial hearings, Noble County Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Nimmo submitted copies of phone conversations recorded at the Noble County Jail reportedly involving Mark Morr and an individual who was not named, and another between Justin Morr and an unidentified woman.
During his phone conversation from the jail, Mark Morr allegedly made threats to the life of a confidential informant involved in the investigation.
“We believe he knows who the (confidential informant) is,” Nimmo told Kramer.
The threats involved Mark Morr referring to people like the informant as often meeting an early death, Nimmo alleged.
“We consider that to be an immediate threat,” Nimmo told Kramer. “I don’t want the community threatened.”
According to Nimmo, another recorded conversation involving Justin Morr and an unidentified female allegedly included evidence that there is an outside source with enough financial resources to bond the Morrs out of jail, and that the source also is involved in illegal activity.
“He is going to make bond,” Nimmo told Superior Court 1 Judge Robert Kirsch during Mark Morr’s hearing. “I think you have the right to know that he is going to be bonded out … by drug dealers.”
The prosecution asked for $3 million bond for Mark Morr, citing a previous criminal record, a history of violence, the amount of drugs involved and the quantity of guns seized at the residence.
Mark Morr’s attorney, Seth Tipton, asked Kirsch to set the bond at $500,000.
Tipton argued Mark Morr has never missed a court date, that he is a lifelong resident of Noble County and that he has a job. Tipton further argued that bond, according to the state constitution, is not meant to be punitive, but rather a means to ensure the defendant will return for his court date.
Nimmo said the bond amount requested by his office was not meant to be punitive, adding such a high figure would give even people with deep pockets good incentive to make sure Mark Morr appears in court.
The courtroom was cleared at one point so all involved could listen to one of the recordings.
Tipton also called a federal DEA agent to the stand and asked him why the case was not being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Indiana. In federal court, a defendant does not have a constitutional right to bail.
The agent did not indicate why the federal government passed on this particular case.
After Thursday’s proceedings, Tipton said he intended to find out why the federal government had chosen not to prosecute Mark Morr.
“There is a reason,” Tipton said. “I’m going to find out what it is.”
The two other suspects in the case, Sherry Morr and Vanessa Salas, had their bonds set Thursday at $25,000 by Kramer.
On Thursday, Noble County Prosecutor Eric Blackman formally charged the four individuals.
Mark Morr is facing the most serious charges: dealing methamphetamine, a Level 2 felony; dealing marijuana, a Level 5 felony; maintaining a common nuisance, a Level 6 felony; and theft, a Level 6 felony. He could face between 10-30 years for the Level 2 felony charge, if convicted.
Mark Morr also may face an additional charge of possession of a sawed-off shotgun in commission of a drug crime, according Blackman.
Justin Morr, Sherry Morr and Salas all face charges of: possession of methamphetamine, a Level 3 felony; dealing marijuana, a Level 5 felony; and theft of a firearm, a Level 6 felony.
A Level 3 felony carries a sentencing range of three to 16 years, with nine years being the standard sentence.
Sherry Morr faces an additional charge of maintaining a common nuisance, a Level 6 felony.
Sherry Morr, who has been identified as Mark Morr’s wife, and Salas, who has been identified as being in a relationship with the couple’s son, Justin Morr, had their bonds set as four-way bonds, with options of paying the entire amount in cash, putting up property as collateral, going through a bail bondsman or posting 10 percent of the bond in cash directly to the county.
The Morrs and Salas were arrested following the execution of a search warrant Dec. 29 at a home they were renting at 11405 N. S.R. 5, north of Ligonier. The investigation involved the Noble County Sheriff’s Department, the Ligonier Police Department, the Indiana State Police and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
Noble County Sheriff Doug Harp said preliminary estimates led to initially announcing 22 pounds of crystal meth had been seized, but the 18-pound figure was accurate.
All will be subject to drug screening and electronic monitoring if they are able to post bond.
During Thursday’s proceedings, Mark Morr listed his residence as being on C.R. 900W, not the S.R. 5 location where he and the other three were arrested. If released on bail, he said he would move in with a relative elsewhere in Noble County.
The other three suspects also will be looking for new residences if released from jail on bond.
“We have been evicted,” Sherry Morr said.
In announcing the charges Thursday, Blackman said he was troubled by the amount of property that was found at the residence north of Ligonier, most of which he expects was stolen and used in the drug trade.
The Noble County Sheriff’s Department has been dealing with a sharp spike in burglaries and thefts over the last two years. Those property-crime cases increased 75 percent in 2015, compared to 2014, and another 50 percent last increase last year, Sheriff Doug Harp has reported.
“If a person’s addiction has progressed to the point where they are stealing and breaking into houses or businesses, or if they are selling drugs to others, that represents a danger to the community that we will not tolerate, and I am making it a priority to aggressively prosecute burglary and drug dealing cases, and will push for sentences that include incarceration,” Blackman said in a news release.