Texas Ranger Jeff Vajdos, one of the lead investigators in the murder trials.
In December 2014, a body was uncovered in Terlingua Creek in south Brewster County. It belonged to Walter Sands the Third, known as Trey, a Kilgore man living in Alpine. This year, two men faced trial for his death and both were convicted of murder.
Earlier this month Keith Alan McWilliams, a resident of Alpine, was sentenced to life in prison for the killing of his friend, Trey Sands. This past week, his accused accomplice, Charles Morrow stood trial in the Brewster County Courthouse before a different jury for the same murder.
It took this jury less than an hour on Friday morning to find Morrow guilty of murdering Sands at a house in Terlingua Ranch in October 2014. Then, following a brief punishment hearing, it took them a little over an hour more to sentence him to 55 years in prison.
On Thursday, Morrow took the stand in his own defense and admitted that, after Keith McWilliams shot Sands in the head, Morrow used a two-by-four to club the victim until he stopped breathing.
Sobbing at times, Morrow told the jury that he knew Sands was dying and that he “thought he deserved better than to die like that.” Morrow said that he “tried to give him a quick death.”
The defense argued that Sands was already was moments away from an inevitable death when Morrow struck him. Medical experts for both the prosecution and the defense agreed. They testified the gunshot wound inflicted by McWilliam was the sole cause of death.
This was enough for Judge Roy Ferguson to give the jury the option to find Morrow guilty of only the lesser-included offense of aggravated assault, but that was clearly rejected.
After the jury was dismissed, Morrow was cuffed by sheriff’s deputies and led into the jury box where Sands mother was allowed to address Morrow directly. Morrow’s attorney, Jaime Escuder objected, arguing to the judge that it constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Escuder also asked the judge to allow him to stand beside his client during the ritual. Both requests were denied.
The victim’s mother took the opportunity to lecture Morrow for almost thirty minutes, calling him “wicked, bad, immoral, sinful, foul, vile, corrupt, villainous, vicious, cruel, monstrous, depraved, malicious, putrid, venomous and a coward.”
Morrow will be eligible for parole when he’s served half of his 55-year sentence.
Rhonda Bloom, the third person arrested in the crime, was originally indicted for murder as well. But that indictment was dismissed at the request of District Attorney Rod Ponton. Bloom was then charged with the third degree felony of tampering with evidence, but has not been indicted. By her own admission, Bloom participated in trying to cover up the crime and accompanied McWilliams and Morrow when they buried Sands body under a pile of rocks in the desert.
Bloom testified for the prosecution this week, asserting that Morrow was a willing accomplice for McWilliams. After Friday’s verdict, Ponton could be overheard promising Sands’ family that he would make sure Bloom is indicted for her role in the crime.
Following the trial, Ponton took to social media to congratulate the state on its successful prosecution, highlighting the loss of lawyer Escuder, who is also his opponent in this week’s Democratic primary race for District Attorney.
Over the course of two trials, the state never established a satisfactory murder motive for either defendant. During McWilliams’ trial, prosecutor Bill Parham alluded to an incident in mid-September 2014, shortly after Sands moved to Alpine from East Texas. Sands was arrested for allegedly firing a pistol at a crowd of people outside the High Sierra restaurant in Terlingua. At one point, Parham claimed that McWilliams murdered Sands because McWilliams, who had taken Sands to Terlingua, was “embarrased” by the altercation, but Parham never really followed up on this argument.
The September incident was barely mentioned in Morrow’s trial. Because Morrow had met neither McWilliams nor Sands before the eve of Sands’ death, so no plausible motive was ever established for Morrow’s actions.
In his closing, Parham told the jury that Morrow was just “pure evil.”
The state is not required to prove the motive for a murder, so, after days and days of testimony, the reason for Sands’ death remains a mystery. Perhaps the killing was, as one reporter observed, essentially senseless – the result of a drunken brawl fueled by a deadly combination of alcohol, marijuana and a pistol.
– Steve Anderson in Alpine