FREEHOLD - After spending two years in the Monmouth County Jail, accused of murdering two relatives in Long Branch decades ago, a mother and son were freed Tuesday to await a retrial in the case.
Dolores Morgan, 68, and her son, Ted Connors, 49, got out of jail after an appellate court order placing their release on hold expired at noon, and by that deadline, prosecutors had not filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court to keep the pair behind bars.
”It was a long time coming; I’m grateful," Connors said outside the Freehold office of his mother's attorney after he and his mother were released from the jail around 1:30 p.m.
“Thank the Lord, I took one day at a time," Morgan said. “So many times since November, they kept saying we're coming out, we're coming out. There was a time I was losing my faith, but I pray."
Morgan and Connors, both formerly of Long Branch and now of Delray Beach, Florida, are charged with the 1994 murder of Morgan’s daughter, Ana Mejia, and the 1995 murder of Nicholas Connors, who was Morgan’s husband.
The pair stood trial last year, but a mistrial was declared after the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. Their retrial is scheduled for Feb. 14.
Superior Court Judge Joseph W. Oxley last week ordered Morgan and Connors released from jail to await retrial, saying the state’s star witness against them, Jose Carrero, was “less than credible," and all the other evidence against them was “mostly circumstantial."
Prosecutors asked the Appellate Division of Superior Court to hear an appeal of Oxley’s decision. The appellate court placed Oxley’s release order on hold while they considered whether to hear the appeal. However, the appellate judges late Friday issued an order saying they would not hear the appeal and that unless the Supreme Court interceded, Oxley’s order would take effect at noon Tuesday.
Mark Spivey, a spokesman for the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, said the office is now in the process of filing a non-emergent appeal with the state Supreme Court, which is expected to be completed in the coming days.
But Jason Seidman, Morgan’s attorney, said when no appeal was filed by noon Tuesday, he sought to have Oxley’s order enforced, and the jail began processing Morgan and Connors out of the lockup shortly after noon.
Seidman said he was driving to the jail to meet his client and her son, expecting them to be getting out late in the afternoon, when he saw them walking down the street, so he stopped and picked them up.
Outside Seidman's office, when asked what the first thing he planned to do now that he was free, Connors said, "I'm going to go grab a chicken parm sandwich, wherever there's an Italian deli nearby."
Asked the same question, his mother said, "I have to fix this hair.''
When first arrested in January 2020, Morgan's hair was short and reddish-brown. Since she's been in jail, her hair has turned silver and grown down her back.
"They've been locked up for 740 days as of today, waiting for their trial, waiting through COVID, fighting motions, fighting the trial, filing motions to be released, and 60 days ago, a judge said, 'You should be released,' and it took another 60 days to get released today," Seidman said.
Oxley first ordered that the mother and son be released from jail in November, but prosecutors appealed, and the Appellate Division sent the case back to Oxley to hold another hearing on their potential release, telling the judge to focus on the presumption that defendants charged with murder should be jailed to await trial.
Oxley, at the second hearing on Jan. 11, said Morgan and Connors had overcome that presumption and should be released. The defendants had remained incarcerated in the interim.
Both are due back in court Thursday for a hearing on motions by defense attorneys claiming that prosecutors withheld crucial evidence from them before the first trial. That evidence, according to the defense attorneys, is that a key witness contradicted the state's claim that Connors confessed to him that he killed his father and that it actually was Carrero who confessed to shooting Nicholas Connors.
Mejia, 25, was stabbed to death in her Long Branch home in December 1994, and prosecutors allege that Morgan orchestrated the murder, and her son committed it, because they thought Mejia was cooperating with authorities about the family’s drug dealing.
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Prosecutors allege Morgan orchestrated her 51-year-old husband’s shooting death in May 1995, and her son committed it, so that she could collect on his life insurance policy.
Jonathan Petty, Connors' attorney, said that with the defendants out of jail, he and Seidman will now be better able to prepare with them for their retrial.
Kathleen Hopkins, a reporter in New Jersey since 1985, covers crime, court cases, legal issues, unsolved mysteries and just about every major murder trial to hit Monmouth and Ocean counties. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Long Branch NJ: Mother, son accused of murder freed from jail