Dealing with a dark past

Michael Morgan‘s soft voice and easy demeanor make him comfortable to talk with. The candidate for the N.C. General Assembly offers articulate and frank answers about his deeply held Christian views and his quest to reform the criminal-justice system.

Yet this is the same man who spent nearly seven years in a federal prison for a voluntary manslaughter conviction in 1984.

When asked about his criminal record, Morgan is forthright, saying he knew it would come out in the press sooner or later.

Mountain Xpress first learned about Morgan’s past a few months ago: the day he filed to run, in fact, when he walked into the Xpress offices and told publisher Jeff Fobes about his conviction, explaining that he wanted to be forthright.

Morgan also contends that he’s innocent of the Sept. 13, 1983 shotgun slaying of David Anthony Harvey in the Pisgah National Forest. “I knew the guy, but I never knew what happened to him,” he insists.

In fact, murder charges were dismissed against Morgan in March of 1984 in Transylvania County Superior Court, after the judge found insufficient evidence. A second trial in the U.S. District Court in Asheville, however, found him innocent of first- and second-degree murder — but the manslaughter conviction stuck.

The federal judge, says Morgan, gave him an appeal bond “because he said the evidence would never stand up to an appeal.” After the appeal failed two years later, however, Morgan spent the next 70 months in the Butner Federal Penitentiary.

In both trials, the prosecution offered a lineup of witnesses who testified that Morgan was a jealous boyfriend who killed Harvey because he was having an affair with Morgan’s girlfriend, according to court testimony recorded in the Sept. 14, 1984 Asheville Citizen-Times.

“Anyone who’s read the transcripts can’t believe I was convicted,” Morgan says. “There was no physical evidence. There was no witnesses. They never found a murder weapon.”

Harvey was discovered dead by a bow hunter about 12 miles from the ranger station on Yellow Gap Road. He was sitting behind the steering wheel of his truck, with a gunshot wound to the head. Prosecutors contended that Morgan had driven from Swannanoa to the Pisgah National Forest and killed Harvey — who was camping there with friends — and then returned to Swannanoa.

Morgan insists he never left Swannanoa that night, and argues it was his scalawag lifestyle at the time that had everyone coming out to testify against him. He says he regularly bounced those same people from his bar, the Y’all Come Back Saloon on U.S. 70. “I’d been running wild,” he reveals. “I was a bad ass, smoking pot, committing adultery, drinking and [being a] bingeing kind of person. Anyone in Swannanoa knew me as that.”

But just because he was a bit of a bad apple, Morgan insists, it doesn’t mean he could kill someone. He admits that he spoke with Harvey in the saloon the day he was murdered, but says they only talked — “there was no argument.”

The mild-mannered Morgan does get bitter when he tells you how federal prosecutors repeatedly badgered him to plead guilty. Because he refused to plea-bargain, he believes, he was forced to serve the full 70 months. “Every time I came up for parole, they mentioned it,” he says. Morgan also holds a grudge against the judicial system for dumping him on the street, with no money, in the middle of winter, upon his eventual release.

When he did get out, Morgan insists that he ended all his wild ways and found religion. “I was trying to become a decent person,” he recalls. “I matured and realized I wasn’t living the right kind of lifestyle if I was going to raise children and be a good parent.” He has since earned a mass-communications degree from UNCA, and was asked to be a deacon at his church.

Morgan maintains that he ever tried to hide his past. The folks in his church know about it, he says, and he told the higher-ups in the local Democratic Party, too. He hopes voters will concentrate on his political views, not his past.

This is his statement:

“I was dealt a great injustice by the federal judicial system, as much so as the events in Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho. I was totally innocent and had been judged so by the N.C. state-court system. I was subjected to double jeopardy when the federal court tried me again on the exact same charge. They had no evidence, but I was railroaded anyway. I was dealt with in a biased manner, while incarcerated, because I had refused to cooperate and plea bargain. I refused to plead guilty to something I didn’t do. Because I exercised my right to plead not guilty, I was subject to extreme bias and extra punishment. This is part of the reason why I’m so passionate about justice for everybody. There are things drastically wrong with our justice system that need fixing.”

Michael Morgan should not be confused with a different man who has virtually the same name: Mike Morgan, who is running on the Republican ticket for Buncombe County commissioner.

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