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Barry Morphew preliminary hearing: FBI agent testifies about movements surrounding wife's disappearance

Posted at 4:38 PM, Aug 10, 2021
and last updated 2024-02-05 19:18:55-05

DENVER – A retired FBI agent testified Tuesday about the location and status of Barry Morphew’s phone in the hours surrounding the disappearance of his wife, which included him dumping trash in five different locations in the Broomfield area.

Barry Morphew, 53, faced his second day of a preliminary hearing in the murder case in which he has been charged in the disappearance and killing of his wife, 49-year-old Suzanne Morphew, in Chaffee County on May 10 of last year. Suzanne’s body has not been found.

Morphew was arrested on May 5, 2021, and charged with multiple counts, including first-degree murder, attempting to influence a public servant, tampering with evidence and tampering with a deceased human body.

During Tuesday’s hearing, after which a judge will decide how the case against Morphew should proceed, Jonathan Grusing, a retired FBI agent, testified about the movement of Barry Morphew’s cell phone and truck on May 9 and 10 – the day Suzanne Morphew was last seen alive and the day she was reported missing.

In the early-morning hours of May 10, a few hours before Barry Morphew left for Broomfield around 5 a.m., his truck doors opened and closed between 3:25 a.m. and 3:51 a.m., signifying someone was in the truck. Around the same time, his phone’s location moved to near where his wife’s bicycle would later be found, Grusing said — though he added that service in the area meant the information was inconclusive. Suzanne Morphew’s phone, which has still not been found, last pinged at 4:23 a.m., he added.

Barry Morphew’s phone went into airplane mode around 4:31 a.m., the court was told, and pinged again just after 5:30 a.m. as Morphew was turning at Buena Vista as he headed toward Broomfield. He would text his mother a happy Mother’s Day a minute later, and just before 7 a.m., texted Suzanne to ask if she was awake yet. “Happy Mother’s Day. I love you,” he added, according to testimony.

Grusing said the data from the phone and truck, along with surveillance video, showed Barry Morphew appeared to go on five trash runs in the Broomfield that day – throwing things away at an RTD bus stop, a hotel where he checked in, a McDonald’s, a Men’s Warehouse and in another trash can near the Holiday Inn he’d checked in to.

When he was questioned about what he was throwing away, he gave conflicting stories, according to Grusing’s testimony. At the Men’s Warehouse, he spent 40 minutes in the parking lot.

Testimony also showed Tuesday that Barry Morphew did not leave his Broomfield hotel room between about 12:42 p.m. and 5:55 p.m. that day, despite telling a neighbor when they talked around 5:15 p.m. on May 10 that he was at the job site working, prosecutors said.

Grusing also testified that Suzanne Morphew sent the last known photo of her alive to Jeff Libler, the man with whom she was having an affair, at 2:03 p.m. on Saturday, May 9. When investigators talked to Barry Morphew about the photo, he told them his wife appeared to be drunk in the photo.

Grusing said Suzanne was sending sunbathing photos of herself to Libler right when Barry Morphew got home around 2:44 p.m. on May 9. His phone pings appear to show him running around the house, Grusing said, and he told investigators in February of this year he was shooting chipmunks at that time, though his phone went into airplane mode about 3 minutes after his arrival, while Suzanne’s phone was still receiving messages from Libler.

Another FBI agent, Ken Harris, said Barry Morphew also had a conversation with a friend of Suzanne’s about Libler, saying he would like to harm the man.

Later during Tuesday’s testimony, defense attorney Dru Nielsen questioned Grusing about phone data which prosecutors showed in court and said made it appear that Barry Morphew was running around their home right after arriving. Nielsen said the affidavit states that there is an opinion that he was “most likely chasing Suzanne around” and had Grusing point out that neighbors heard no unusual noises around that time.

Defense attorneys said Barry Morphew spoke to law enforcement 23 times from the day his wife disappeared until the end of 2020, and said the chipmunks claim did not get brought up until this year. Nielsen argued that the phone data would have meant Barry was moving through walls and at speeds humans are not capable of for the pings to be true.

The court also heard testimony that Suzanne Morphew’s Facebook codes were reset later that night and her account friend requested 23 of her old friends, 20 of them men. Barry Morphew denied doing so.

Suzanne also put together a list of grievances that was last saved two days before she disappeared, which Grusing testified included 50 reasons why she was thinking about leaving Barry, which included him accusing her of having a boyfriend a few days earlier.

Harris, the other FBI agent who testified earlier Tuesday, said the phone and credit card records for the man Suzanne was having an affair with show he was in Michigan on the day she disappeared. Prosecutors argued Tuesday they believe that Barry Morphew was also looking for other women to date, saying he had deleted web history that included Ashley Madison searches and a search for “cute girls” in the Salida area. He had also texted Suzanne about suicidal thoughts two days before she was reported missing, Harris testified.

Testimony continued after another afternoon break, with Grusing still on the stand. The defense attorneys questioned Grusing about why he didn’t include testimony about him visiting Salida Stove and Spa on the afternoon of May 9 between 4 and 5:30 p.m. and that a worker at the store found nothing out of the ordinary about his demeanor as they worked to question his prior testimony about Barry chasing Suzanne around the house earlier that afternoon and to point out that the truck did not capture every instance in which the vehicle was moving or stopping.

Grusing said that Suzanne's phone made an outgoing call at 2:53 a.m. on May 10, about half an hour before Barry's truck doors opened. Nielsen suggested it might have been Suzanne opening the truck dors.

He is the third of eight witnesses expected to testify at the preliminary hearing, which is slated for Monday and Tuesday this week and for Aug. 23 and 24.

During the first day of the hearing, the court learned about Suzanne Morphew’s two-year-long affair with Libler based off recordings from a spy pen she had bought because she suspected Barry was having an affair. Witnesses also walked through that relationship and how Suzanne and Barry’s relationship had deteriorated over time.

This is a developing news story and will be updated.

Editor's Note: Courtroom notes from Denver7's Russell Haythorn and ABC News's Carol McKinley contributed to this report.