Salt Lake Tribune
19 June 1914
SON OF DEAD MAN
TELLS MURDER STORY
Merlin Morrison Describes
Killing of Father and
Brother by Robbers.
State’s Witness Identify
Joseph Hillstrom is convicted of the murder of J. G. Morrison and his son Arlin
Morrison, it undoubtedly will be due in a large measure to the story told on
the witness stand in the district court yesterday by Merlin Morrison, aged 13
years, who was the only survivor of the murders fire of the highwaymen in the
little grocery store.
The boy was placed on the stand yesterday morning as the state’s chief witness. He told the only direct narrative of the shooting the state will place before the jury.
Other witnesses examined yesterday were police officers, who testified concerning the exhibits entered by the state, such as the bandana handkerchiefs alleged to have been worn by the robbers, the gun with which young Arlin Morrison shot one of the robbers, and the bloody clothing worn by Hillstrom at the time of his arrest.
Detective George E. Cleveland identified the gun introduced as a n exhibit as the one that was handed to him when he arrived on the scene of the murders. The same gun was identified as belonging to Morrison, the murdered grocery man.
Tells Graphic Story.
Young Merlin Morrison’s story of the murder of his father and brother by the highwayman was a graphic but straightforward account. Tears welled to his eyes and his voice choked at times as he recited the details of the wanton killing. He strove hard to restrain his emotions, though, and for the most part was cool and careful in his testimony.
Being the only eyewitness, the boy’s story is the most important bit of testimony the state has to offer. Scanning the defendant up and down carefully, the boy declared up and down positively that in general build, height, form of body and shape of head Hillstrom bears a striking resemblance to the taller of the two highwaymen. Hillstrom was visibly affected by the boy’s identification and he dropped his eyes before young Morrison’s steady gaze.
The witness said that the shooting occurred at about 9:45 o’clock Saturday night, January 10, 1914, just as his father, his brother and himself were preparing to close the store for the night. He said he was standing near the southwest end of the store and his father was dragging a sack of potatoes through an opening in the counters at the north end of the store. His brother, Arlin, was sweeping the floor in the center of the room.
“I had my back to the door when I heard a shout from the front door, and it sounded like two men shouting together,” he said. “I turned and saw two men just inside the door. They wore bandana handkerchiefs over the lower parts of their faces, and had on soft felt hats and the taller one was in the lead, carrying an automatic revolver in his hand. They rushed toward my father and shouted, ‘We’ve got you now.’”
The witness said that he was frightened and that he rushed back to the door leading to the storeroom in the rear. He heard the first shot fired, but did not see it, and was not certain whether it struck his father. He said he turned as he heard the shot and saw the taller highwayman leaning over the edge of the counter pointing his gun at the elder Morrison.
“I saw him fire and father dropped behind the counter,” he continued. “Father’s back was turned down toward the robber when the shot was fired.”
He said he heard five or six more shots, but did not see them fired, nor did he know by whom they were fired.
The gun with which Arlin Morrison shot one of the robbers before he was killed was then shown to the witness and was identified by him as his father’s gun, which was kept in the ice box. It was this gun that Arlin Morrison secured and opened fire on the robbers after they had shot his father. It was a .38 caliber Colt revolver.
Spoke to Father.
Merlin then resumed his story of what occurred after the robbers ran from the store.
“I ran to my father. He was lying face down behind the counter. He was not dead and he spoke to me.”
Merlin’s voice choked here and he wiped his eyes. He was given time to calm himself before another question was asked. Only the muffled grief of the boy was to be heard in the room for a moment. He went on finally:
“I ran to my brother and he was dead. Father’s revolver was lying near Arlin’s outstretched hand. I tried to lift the body, but I could not.”
Hillstrom took many notes while young Morrison told his story and kept running through a list of newspaper clippings telling of the murder as though to compare the published accounts with the boy’s version.
“Have you ever seen Hillstrom before?” the district attorney asked the witness.
“Yes sir, at the county jail and at the preliminary hearing,” he replied.
“How does his height compare to that of the taller of the two men who entered the store?” was the next question.
After looking at Hillstrom carefully the witness said that his height was about the same as that of the man who killed his father. He said he had not been able to see the features of the men but he had been able to notice the general appearance and that in general appearance Hillstrom resembled the taller highwayman.
It was noon when the boy finished his story. He was cross-examined during the afternoon, but the defense did not succeed in breaking his story at any material point nor in weakening or qualifying his identification of the defendant.
Other witnesses besides the boy and Detective Cleveland were W. C. Zeese, Richard Beynon, Charles A. Vance and Inspector Carl A. Carlson, all police officers.
The state showed through its testimony that one of the bandanna handkerchiefs was found in an alley [that] was near the grocery store the night of the murder and the other was found in Murray at the place where Hillstrom was arrested the following day. The handkerchiefs were about the same in appearance.
Just at closing hour the defending attorneys asked leave to consult with Hillstrom in the courtroom. E. O. Leatherwood, district attorney, objected, saying that there was a private reception room at the county jail for just such conferences.
“For obvious reasons we do not care to talk with our client at the county jail,” said attorney Scott.
“Oh, I can assure you on my word of honor that the room is not equipped with dictographs,” said the district attorney.
“Maybe so,” was the reply of counsel for the defense as he repeated his request for a conference in the court room.
Judge Ritchie granted the request, but informed counsel that he would not entertain a similar request hereafter.