Rockville Man Sentenced to 5 Years for Rape of Former Friend

Assault happened at Potomac house after the two had been drinking with friends at a bar in Bethesda


Published:

Richard Morse

via Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office

Before Montgomery County Circuit Judge David Boynton sentenced Richard Morse to five years in prison for raping his former friend, he noted that the young woman who was assaulted was “physically and mentally incapacitated when this happened.”

Boynton described the case as difficult, and, as is the situation in many criminal cases, that there were no winners. A young woman had been raped. A young man’s life would be changed forever, he said.

Morse, 22, was found guilty of second-degree rape by a jury in September. He’ll be required to serve at least two and a half years in prison before he will be eligible for parole. The verdict left the approximately two dozen supporters of Morse—including his parents and girlfriend—apparently in shock and some crying.

The young woman whom Morse raped—Bethesda Beat does not typically name rape victims—did not appear at the sentencing. Prosecutor Mary Herdman said the woman “felt belittled” during the trial as her life became the focus of criticism. Herdman said the woman regretted drinking “an incredible amount of alcohol” before she was raped, but Herdman said that didn’t matter because state law says an incapacitated victim can’t give consent.

“A rape is a rape is a rape,” Herdman said.

The assault happened May 17, 2015. In court documents, police said the young woman met up with Morse and a group of mutual friends at a bar in downtown Bethesda. Morse later admitted to taking Klonopin—an anti-anxiety pill—before going to the bar. The group drank heavily, the young woman got sick at the bar, and the friends left around 3 a.m. to go to a home in Potomac. One of the friends took the woman to a bedroom at the house where she fell asleep, according to the documents.

Later that night, according to police, the woman awoke to find Morse having sex with her—she tried to push him off, told him she didn’t want to have sex and eventually was able to escape his grasp. She estimated the encounter lasted 10 minutes. She then fell back to sleep and awoke to find Morse again trying to have sex with her. This time, she retreated to the bathroom and discovered she was bleeding from her vagina. She grabbed her clothes and left the residence with friends, according to police. Prosecutors said bruises later developed on her body.

Herdman said that after the attack, the young woman underwent a sexual assault exam and tests for sexually transmitted diseases. She had to work up the courage to tell her story to police, prosecutors and a courtroom, Herdman said.

In court Thursday, Morse said he was so intoxicated that night that he didn’t remember having sex with the woman. He apologized to the woman, his family and his friends.

“I ignored what I was doing that night because of how much I drank,” Morse said. He added that he hopes to share his experience with other young people to warn about the “dangers of binge drinking.”

Morse and the young woman had been friends, prosecutors said. They both attended West Virginia University. Morse grew up in a middle-class family in Rockville and graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac.

Since his conviction, Morse has been held at the county correctional facility in Clarksburg. Meanwhile, Herdman said, the young woman’s father has said the woman struggles with depression and there are times she can’t get out of bed.

From a national perspective, the case isn’t unusual—Herdman brought up the Brock Turner case to the judge, which spawned a nationwide backlash after the Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an incapacitated woman was released from jail after three months. Other stories of acquaintance or date rape drawing national attention have been detailed in Missoula, Montana and Steubenville, Ohio.

Even locally, State’s Attorney John McCarthy said, more than 95 percent of rape cases involve a victim who knows her attacker.

He said it’s not unusual for women or other victims to decide not to pursue such cases because they can divide friendships, even communities. He noted that in this case, friends of Morse and the woman had to pick sides.

“Sometimes it’s easier for [victims] to walk away,” McCarthy said. “They know it’s going to disrupt their life.”

He said it took enormous courage for the woman to testify in a public courtroom about what had happened to her.

McCarthy said he hopes the sentencing sends a message to young people in the county “that you can not take advantage of your friends, even if they’re drinking. If you do, there will be a consequence.” Morse’s sentence was at the lower end of Maryland sentencing guidelines for the offense, which call for up to 20 years, but McCarthy said it was appropriate.

In handing down his sentence, Boynton mentioned that Morse’s friends and family described him in more than 100 letters submitted to the court as a good person and said that the incident was out of character. Morse had no prior criminal record. But the judge said Morse failed to adequately take responsibility for his actions—though Morse apologized for hurting the friendship he and the woman had, he did not apologize for assaulting her, the judge said.

“There’s a very distinct difference between the psychological impact of a person being sexually abused by a friend…than by a stranger,” Boynton said. In his experience, it takes victims more time and psychological help to recover from being raped by someone they trusted than by a stranger, he said.

In addition to the five-year sentence, Morse was also sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to abstain from taking drugs or drinking alcohol. He will also have to register as a sex offender and, due to the nature of the crime, he’ll be on the registry for life, prosecutors said.

Barry Helfand, Morse’s defense attorney, said the registry will “doom” the young man from being able to get a job or live freely in the future. Helfand said after the sentencing hearing that Morse may ask the judge to reconsider the sentence or possibly file an appeal within the 30-day time limit.

After the sentence was read, a sheriff guided Morse through a reinforced door of the courtroom, as his mother told him from the audience, “I love you.” Then a heavy steel door slammed shut behind him.

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