Key question in Morris case remains unanswered

Nizah Morris

A key question in the Nizah Morris case remains unanswered, though the answer could help resolve protracted litigation pending in Commonwealth Court.

 

Morris, a trans woman, was found with a fatal head wound in 2002, shortly after a courtesy ride from Philadelphia police. Her homicide remains unsolved.

 In 2008, when supplying 33 Morris police documents to the Police Advisory Commission, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office acknowledged it was withholding additional documents.

 At the time, the PAC was reviewing the Morris case, and the D.A. provided some police documents because police claimed their entire Morris homicide file was lost.

 The documents provided to the PAC by the D.A.’s office included witness statements, police-dispatch records and a 2003 PGN letter seeking access to Morris 911 tapes.

 The documents were accompanied by an April 11, 2008, letter from the D.A.’s Office, stating it was withholding additional documents due to “privilege, privacy and/or other grounds.”

 A copy of the D.A.’s letter is available at the online Morris archives created by the Slought Foundation.

 Last week, a spokesperson for the D.A.’s Office had no comment as to whether the agency still has documents withheld from the PAC in 2008, and whether they would be publicly identified.

 In 2015, during a Morris forum at William Way LGBT Community Center, D.A. Seth Williams declined to release a list of all Morris police records in the D.A.’s possession.

 In 2013, PGN filed an open-records request for police-dispatch records pertaining to a traffic stop in the Morris case. To date, it remains unclear whether the D.A. has responsive records. The case remains pending in Commonwealth Court.

 The D.A.’s Office recently ordered a copy of a transcript of oral arguments regarding the open-records case. The oral arguments were held in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court in April.

 Once the D.A.’s Office provides the transcript and other records from the case to Commonwealth Court, a briefing schedule will be issued.

 In 2013, after a 10-year review, the PAC took an unprecedented step of recommending state and federal probes of the Morris case. But so far, no state or federal agency appears to be investigating the case.

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.