For about 12 months, Colorado law enforcement was steadfast in alleging that Barry Morphew murdered his wife of 26 years after learning she had a torrid extramarital love affair, disposed of her body, and staged a fake bike crash to throw off investigators.
Prosecutors last May filed several charges against Morphew, which offered shocking details about how the 53-year-old allegedly planned and covered up Suzanne Morphew’s murder a year earlier, on May 9, 2020. Days after his arrest, the father-of-two was hit with additional charges for allegedly submitting a mail-in ballot on behalf of his missing wife—and casting her vote for Donald Trump.
Barry Morphew pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him. But as horrible as the allegations were, those close to Suzanne Morphew were grateful for the attention her disappearance received from authorities.
“When Barry was first charged with Suzanne’s murder, it seemed like we were finally in the steps of getting closure and answers about what happened to her and where she was,” Tisha Leewaye, one of Suzanne’s friends, told The Daily Beast.
“Then, the case slowly fell apart.”
On Tuesday, prosecutors abruptly filed a motion to drop the murder charges against Morphew just nine days before he was set to stand trial. In an 11-page motion to dismiss that case without prejudice—meaning charges can be refiled—prosecutors said they believed investigators were close to finding Suzanne’s body, but had been hindered by recent snow.
“In typical homicide cases, the fact of the victim’s death is rarely at issue, but in a case such as this, the most influential fact of consequence is whether or not Ms. Morphew is deceased,” 11th Judicial District Attorney Linda Stanley wrote in the motion. “If the body proves to be there, further forensic examination could potentially inculpate or exculpate [Morphew], which is incredibly important evidence for the jury to hear in determining the merits of the case.”
In other words, the authorities say they are just being thorough and erring on the side of fairness—they want to find a corpse before they bring someone to trial for murder. But conversations with legal experts, Morphew’s lawyers, family members, and those closest to Suzanne suggest that even if the murder saga is far from over, law enforcement has made landing a conviction much harder than it needed to be.
“It’s extremely rare to drop, just flat out dismiss, a murder charge,” David Lane, a Denver defense attorney unconnected to the case, told The Daily Beast. “But this entire case is very unusual. The level of prosecutorial misconduct was so egregious.”
That alleged misconduct was detailed in a devastating order issued by Fremont County District Court Judge Ramsey Lama on April 8 in which he blocked the testimony of almost all prosecutorial expert witnesses. It was punishment for what he called the prosecution’s “arguably reckless” pattern of violating discovery rules.
Among the offenses, according to Lama’s order: repeatedly missing court deadlines, failing to turn over material evidence, misrepresenting evidence, and even hiding DNA found in Suzanne’s car from the defense.
“They never had a case,” Iris Eytan, one of Morphew’s lawyers, told The Daily Beast. “They knew last year that they did not have enough to file charges and they have been trying to manipulate and hide evidence to make their case work ever since.”
Eytan added that she was not sweating the prospect of prosecutors refiling the murder charges against Morphew, and that Morphew was not worried about it either. Instead, she said, he was focused on finding Suzanne and the separate case involving the 2020 ballot.
“He needs his moment. He needs to catch his breath,” the lawyer said, noting that Morphew’s daughters have been steadfast in maintaining their father’s innocence; they have repeatedly appeared with him in public since the charges. “Barry is just focused on his family, going to see his mom in Indiana, and finding his wife.”
The Morphew family and the 11th Judicial District Attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment on this story. The Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement to The Daily Beast that the investigation into what happened to Suzanne Morphew was ongoing—and thus they could not share any details.
“The Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office maintains its commitment to this case and will continue to work tirelessly to find the body of Suzanne Morphew,” Sheriff John Spezze added in the statement. “While we are disappointed in the delay of the proceedings, we remain unwavering in our commitment to this investigation and the ultimate prosecution of Mr. Morphew.”
The search for Suzanne Morphew began two years ago when a neighbor reported her missing after she didn’t return home from a bike ride. For several days, federal and local authorities conducted an extensive canvass over a 2.5-mile area—eventually finding her bike and undamaged helmet, but not Suzanne.
As the desperate search for his wife continued, Barry Morphew released a video pleading for her safe return on May 17, 2020. He also offered a $200,000 reward for information about her disappearance.
“Oh Suzanne, if anyone is out there that can hear this, that has you, please, we’ll do whatever it takes to bring you back. We love you. We miss you. The girls need you. No questions asked. However much they want, I will do whatever it takes to get you back. Honey, I love you. I want you back so bad,” Morphew said in the video.
Despite the public appeal, questions began to surface about his possible role in his wife’s disappearance—fueled in part by the suggestion that he had scrubbed a Denver hotel room clean just prior to her being reported missing. Morphew and his legal team have denied any wrongdoing, stating that he last saw Suzanne asleep at home before he headed into work, and that he had secured a hotel room for someone helping him with a construction gig.
In an August 2020 interview with Fox21, Morphew insisted unfair media coverage of his wife’s case made him out to be a villain. “People don’t know the truth, so they’re gonna think what they’re gonna think,” he said.
Then he began to offer different theories about what happened to his wife, suggesting she may have been the victim of an animal attack—or abducted. In an interview, his defense attorney doubled down on the idea that cops simply latched onto an easy villain.
“I wish investigators had pursued the non-Barry Morphew leads,” Eytan told The Daily Beast. “He was cooperating with police, talking to them, and providing them information, and instead they focused on him. We might have answers if they just looked into other possibilities, like that she was abducted or left.”
Ultimately, nearly a year after Suzanne vanished, Barry Morphew was charged with first-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence.
“My first reaction is relief. I’m just so grateful,” Melinda Moorman, Suzanne Morphew’s sister, told the local Fox affiliate at the time of his arrest, noting that she still loved her brother-in-law even “though he’s done a terrible thing.”
Days later, Morphew was charged again with one felony count of forgery of public records and one misdemeanor elections-mail-ballot offense after allegedly filling out the mail-in ballot for Trump on behalf of his still-missing wife. When asked about voter fraud, Morphew allegedly told FBI agents that he “wanted Trump… to win.”
“I just thought, give him… another vote. I figured all these other guys are cheating,” Morphew said, according to an arrest affidavit, arguing that he knew his wife “was going to vote for Trump anyway.”
As the case plodded toward trial, wild allegations about the Colorado family began to surface in hearings and court documents. Among them: that Suzanne had a secret two-year affair with someone she knew from high school, and had taken steps to record her husband with a spy pen after becoming convinced he may have been involved in his own infidelity. Barry Morphew has denied having an affair of his own.
“She never spoke to me about wanting a divorce or having an affair. She didn’t tell anyone, so it was a surprise to us for sure to hear all these details about Suzanne’s life that none of us knew,” Leewaye told The Daily Beast.
Morphew’s arrest affidavit also concluded that Suzanne took “clear, articulate steps… in attempts to separate from and divorce her husband, Barry.”
The affidavit states that Barry Morphew admitted to disposing of tranquilizer solution during a business trip to Broomfield, Colorado, the day his wife was reported missing—and that he was near the area where investigators found Suzanne’s helmet.
“Since January 2021, Barry has admitted to: chasing a chipmunk with a gun around the house while Susan was outside sunbathing, shooting a deer with a tranquilizer dart to explain a dart and needle cap in the dryer, disposing of the tranquilizer solution during this trip to Broomfield, following a bull elk down Highway 50 in the 4:00 AM hour on May 10 to explain why his truck would be headed west (where the helmet was discarded), and finally stating to the FBI on April 22, 2021, that he looks guilty from the evidence and God allowed these things to happen,” the affidavit states.
Authorities suggested in the affidavit that Morphew admitted to lying about his involvement in the case—and indicated that his wife’s murder “was a form of God’s judgment” for her affair. Morphew’s lawyer told The Daily Beast this week that his statements during the two-hour interview were taken out of context, and showcase a religious man’s attempt “to come to terms with finding out his wife had an affair.”
Leewaye said that while the allegations against Morphew offered some jarring insight into the couple’s private life, it became clear to her during one of the preliminary hearings she attended that the prosecution’s case against him was in serious trouble.
One of the main problems was that prosecutors had a lot of circumstantial evidence, but nothing definitive that tied Morphew to Suzanne’s death. Not to mention the fact that Suzanne’s body was still missing, and prosecutors admitted in court that there was no clear idea of how, precisely, she was killed.
Morphew’s defense team repeatedly called out the government, claiming prosecutors purposefully failed to provide them with evidence, or else missed court deadlines. One major piece of information that was deliberately concealed, according to Eytan, was male DNA found on Suzanne’s glovebox.
The blood and DNA in question, the defense lawyer said, did not match Morphew’s—but it did correspond with DNA profiles in at least three unsolved sexual-assault cases across the country. Last August, a former Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent testified about the DNA sample, which Chief Judge Patrick Murphy said at the time was “pretty critical evidence.” Since then, that agent has resigned from the CBI amid an internal affairs investigation, and Murphy removed himself from the case over a potential conflict of interest.
“The decision to hide that DNA evidence from us alone should have ended this case,” Eytan told The Daily Beast. “They tried to conceal material evidence. They have been lying and hiding evidence that proves Barry’s innocence all along. Every single piece of evidence that didn’t help them, we think they tried to hide it.”
Eytan recalled that by this February, her team had filed a motion asking for sanctions against the prosecution and dismissal of the trial—stating that it was the only “just remedy” to justify the level of misconduct. In their own motion, the prosecution insisted the allegations were “utter nonsense” and denied any wrongdoing.
While Judge Lama denied the defense’s request to dismiss the charges, he did take the highly unusual step of admonishing prosecutors for what he suggested was a negligent pattern of discovery violations. And he blocked them from using 12 of 14 expert witnesses set to testify about DNA, cellphone, and vehicle data analysis.
“This Court has repeatedly noted it does not, in any way, condone the People’s behavior,” Lama wrote in the 20-page order on April 8. “The behavior has, in the Court’s eyes, been recognizably consistent. While the Court… does not find this pattern willful based on the record, the Court does find this pattern to be negligent, bordering on reckless.”
Prosecutors may have been even more skeptical of their own case than the judge was.
“It’s typically hard for prosecutors to receive any time of punishment, and so I commend this judge for finally taking a stand,” Lane, the outside defense attorney, said. “But without those witnesses, it seems the prosecution obviously did not think their charges would stick at this point, and had no choice but to dismiss.”
Eytan said her team had no idea of the prosecution’s intent to dismiss the case before it happened, and that she came prepared Tuesday morning to finalize any pre-trial discussions ahead of trial. As they were waiting for the hearing to begin, she said, her team happened upon the prosecution’s motion for dismissal on the internet.
“We were caught off guard,” Eytan said. “We were really surprised and overwhelmed. The prosecution didn’t even notify Barry’s daughters.”
The last-minute dismissal was ultimately supported by at least some members of Suzanne’s family, who were called into court virtually to offer their thoughts about the case.
Morphew’s daughters took the time to reaffirm their support for their father, stating that they supported the dismissal and were looking forward to time to heal.
Other members of the family were less than ready to move on, even if they seemed convinced the dismissal made sense—at least for now.
Suzanne Morphew’s brother, David Moorman, appeared virtually during Tuesday’s hearing, and stated that he hoped to “see this through to the end.”
“I’m sure we’ll be back in this courtroom in the future and I look forward to that day,” he said. Andrew Moorman, another of her brothers, told Lama that “dismissal is proper because more investigation needs to be done to find my sister.”
Leewaye, for her part, was more blunt about what she thinks about the case—and what she hopes happens next.
“I absolutely 100 percent think Barry is still guilty,” she said.