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SMITHFIELD-A Superior Court judge said Wednesday, Oct. 9 that if Rev. Steve Morris is convicted of statutory rape he could face a life sentence without parole.
Judge Keith Gregory said statutory rape is a B-1 felony and each count carries the maximum sentence of life without parole. Morris is charged with six counts of statutory rape allegedly committed on an underage girl between December 2013 through May 2014.
Morris is charged with six counts of taking indecent liberties with the same girl during the same period. Gregory said that's a Class F felony, carrying a maximum sentence of 59 months (4.9 years).
In the indictments handed down Monday, Oct. 7, Morris is charged with one count of attempted first degree exploitation of minor, a Class D felony which carries a maxium sentence of 204 months (17 years).
Morris is also charged with one count of solicitation of another to commit first degree exploitation of a minor, a Class E felony which carries a maximum sentence of 88 months (7.3 years). These incidents allegedly happened in 2008.
In 2007, Morris was alleged to have attempted indecent liberties with two underage girls. Both are Class F felonies which each carry maximum sentences of 59 months (4.9 years).
Morris is being held on a $1 million bond in the Johnston County Jail. On the original case, he was held on $2.5 million bond which was later reduced to $250,000 and Morris was placed on house arrest.
Assistant District Attorney Paul Jackson said there's a possibility additional charges may be filed.
Morris' attorney Bob Denning told Gregory his client has abided by the conditions of his house arrest, moved from Four Oaks to Smithfield and willingly turned himself in.
Denning declined to pursue a bond reduction plea because he had just received the new indictments and wanted to make sure there was no conflict of interest between his law firm and the alleged victims before continuing as Morris' attorney. Morris said he would contact Jackson on Friday, Oct. 11 to give his findings and decision.
Morris' next scheduled court date is Nov. 4 for an administrative hearing. Should Denning opt to continue representing Morris, a bond hearing could take place before that date.