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Watertown man admits killing Brownville woman during high-speed pursuit

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A Watertown man admitted Tuesday in Jefferson County Court that he was under the influence of cocaine and fleeing police when he caused a crash that killed a Brownville woman in October.

Francis T. “Terry” Morgia, 48, pleaded guilty to second-degree attempted murder and 10 other charges in connection with the Oct. 3 accident in which Shirley H. Hammond, 75, was killed at Routes 12 and 342 in the town of Pamelia. Morgia admitted that he was fleeing police after robbing an elderly woman of her purse at the Kohl’s department store in the town of Watertown.

The pursuit began when Morgia failed to stop for Glen Park Village Police Chief Larry M. Jobson and continued onto West Main and Bradley streets before proceeding out of Watertown on Route 12 at speeds of up to 120 mph. The chase ended when Morgia’s vehicle struck one operated by Mrs. Hammond’s son, off-duty Watertown police Officer William K. Rafferty. Mr. Rafferty and Mrs. Hammond’s other son, Jeffrey C. Hammond, as well as Autumn Tharrett, an off-duty Syracuse police officer, were injured in the crash.

In addition to the murder count, Morgia pleaded guilty to first-degree vehicular assault, two counts of second-degree assault, driving while ability impaired by drugs, first-degree unlawfully fleeing a police officer, third-degree robbery and four counts of fourth-degree grand larceny.

The larceny charges stemmed from the purse-snatching at Kohl’s, as well as three similar thefts Morgia admitted he committed between Sept. 28 and Oct. 3.

Morgia’s plea was somewhat unexpected; as recently as Monday he had rejected a plea bargain offer, and the matter was slated for trial June 18 with no further pre-trial proceedings planned. However, his attorney, David P. Antonucci, Watertown, said Morgia had additional discussions with his family Monday and he had the “ability to reflect a little bit on yesterday’s proceedings.”

“He thought further, and he realized it was headed to trial,” Mr. Antonucci said. “The moment was right. It was going to trial; it was time to make a decision, and he made it.”

Mr. Antonucci described Morgia as “extremely remorseful.”

“He claims there’s not a night he can sleep,” he said.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Kristyna S. Mills said the attempted murder charge to which Morgia pled was part of a plea bargain that would enable him to avoid the possibility of life in prison if convicted at trial of second-degree murder, the top charge in a 72-count indictment handed up against him in November. A conviction on the murder count could have come with a sentence of 25 years to life.

Morgia is expected to be sentenced June 25 to 18 years in state prison, followed by an additional five years of supervision upon his release. He will also be ordered to pay up to $12,000 in restitution. He remains held at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building on $500,000 bail.

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