‘the day liberty lost its innocence’_ tragic murder of lisa allison in 1996 forever changed small town’s residents – your houston news_ news

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This year’s candlelight vigil for crime and child abuse victims will be held on April 12, 6:30 p. m., at the Liberty Center (inside Liberty City Hall), 1710 Sam Houston Ave. The vigil is scheduled during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, observed this year during the week of April 10-16.

Hosted by the Liberty County District Attorney’s Office, the annual vigils are a reminder that recovering from a crime does not end once a trial ends.

“We want to let the crime victims know they are not forgotten when their case is over,” said District Attorney Logan Pickett. “They are still a part of our lives and they are a part of ours. We went through this process together.”

Liberty County has experienced a number of murder cases since Pickett was first elected four years ago, though Robert Brice Morrow’s case for the 1996 murder of Lisa Allison was the last death penalty verdict.

“I hate to use money as a reason not to seek the death penalty, but it is a factor. If our goal is to permanently remove a person from society, there are two ways to do it — life without parole where they can never be released from prison and the death penalty,” Pickett said.

One such verdict of life without the possibility of parole was the sentencing of Stevie R. Walders, who pleaded guilty in August 2012 to the Dec. 25, 2009 shooting death of Naushad Virani, who operated a convenience store next to Ridgewood Subdivision on SH 146 north of Liberty.

“We got an appropriate punishment for society by putting him away for life. There was some finality to it. No appeal, no additional hearings,” Pickett said.

Only a tiny fraction of the cases prosecuted by the DA’s office involves murder. The office, which has four prosecutors including the district attorney, disposes of more than 1,000 felonies per year, many involving child victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

“Last year, I applied for and received a grant for a full-time victims’ assistance coordinator. We pay for 20 percent of the costs through our drug forfeiture monies. That person coordinates different hearings, such as court appearances, docket calls and trials,” the DA said.

The number of times the DA’s office meets with the complainant varies by case.

“Sometimes it depends on how often they want to meet. Just about every time we meet, we are forcing them to talk about something they don’t want to talk about. We try to keep from opening that wound unnecessarily,” he said.

For additional information about Crime Victims’ Rights Week, Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the upcoming candlelight vigil on April 12, 2016, contact Victim Assistance Coordinator Belinda McCormick at the Liberty County District Attorney’s Office by calling 936- 336-4609, ext 1402.

The passage of time doesn’t always make a loss easier for families of murdered children.

“Not everyone has closure. It’s not a reality for everyone. You can never forget,” said Mike Allison.

Two decades ago this week, the life of Lisa Allison, the 21-year-old daughter of Mike and Susan Allison of Liberty, was snuffed out at the hands of a cold killer, Robert Brice Morrow, who kidnapped Lisa from a car wash before assaulting and murdering her.

Lisa, a third-year student at the University of Las Vegas, was home on spring break when she crossed paths with Morrow, a local man with a lengthy criminal history and three previous stints in prison.

She vanished while cleaning her father’s car at a car wash on FM 563 in Liberty in anticipation of a night out with friends.

“She had taken the car to get gasoline and to run it through the car wash. She left and never came back,” Susan said. “As the night wore on, we knew something was wrong.”

The Allisons began a frantic search for their oldest daughter, taking turns driving to her friends’ houses while one parent stayed behind with their other younger daughter.

“We called all her friends around 5 to 6 a. m. the next morning. None of them had seen her, so we went to the police department and reported her missing,” Susan said.

The Allisons didn’t have to wait long. A few hours later, at 10 a. m., April 4, Lisa’s lifeless body was found along the Trinity River by a fisherman. CLUES LEAD TO SUSPECTS

The investigation by Liberty Police Department and other agencies pointed toward other suspects before finally identifying Morrow as the murderer.

Cpl. Hugh Bishop with the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office was public information officer for Liberty Police Department at the time of Lisa’s murder.

“It was a true who-done-it. We had no suspect at first. We had another person of interest and brought Morrow in for questioning because he lived on the same street as our other suspect,” Bishop said.

While being questioned by Tom Chapman, the LPD investigator who has since died, Morrow nervously sputtered out an alibi that he had been at work on an oil rig on the day of Lisa’s disappearance and was treated to a birthday party with friends later that night. Both claims were proven to be false.

“He was a true sociopath. He thought he was smarter than everyone else and kept coming up with stories on the fly. Any time the investigators confronted him, they would disprove his alibis. Then he would reform his story and come up with something new,” Bishop said.

Evidence from Lisa’s car, which was abandoned at the Catholic Church in Ames, offered further proof that Morrow was responsible for the crime.

“His blood was found in the car. He first said they got in an argument and someone was shot. Then he said someone pulled a knife and he got cut,” Bishop said. “Then investigators also found some friend of his who said that a short time before Lisa’s murder, Morrow wanted to go to the Happy Chap gas station in Liberty to go find a pretty blonde who would pull up for gas, and that she would be easy to get.”

The gas station Morrow reportedly mentioned is directly across FM 563 from the car wash where Lisa disappeared.

At the time of Morrow’s arrest, investigators were four months into their inquiries.

“The day we got the warrant for him, Morrow was stopped by two Houston PD officers for walking in a street where sidewalks are provided. He was in a notorious drug neighborhood. One of the cops wanted to write him a ticket. They went ahead and sacked him up and took him to jail,” Bishop said. “They ran him through their computer system but the warrant wasn’t in the system yet. By the time they got him to the jail and ran him again, the capital murder warrant was there.”

Once convicted of Lisa’s murder by a Liberty County jury, Morrow was sentenced to die by lethal injection. On Nov. 4, 2004, Morrow was put to death at the Walls Unit in Huntsville.

In the years leading up to his execution, Morrow taunted Lisa’s family in published news articles and denied any involvement with her murder. However, faced with his imminent death, strapped to the gurney in the death chamber, needles in his arms ready to deliver a fatal dose of potassium chloride, Morrow admitted his guilt, saying to the Allison family, “I would like to tell you that I am responsible, and I am sorry for what I did and the pain I caused.” STILL NO CLOSURE

Knowing that the man who killed their child will never harm another person brings a small measure of satisfaction for the Allisons, but it has not given them closure.

“It’s constantly with you. You never get to the point where it’s not a part of you. You have your daily things you have to do and you just do them,” Mike said. “I don’t believe in closure. I don’t think you ever get to a point where you can close it off.”

Some of the happiest moments in their lives, like the birth of their first grandchild, come with a twinge of sadness.

“When our granddaughter was born, I kept wishing that she could have known her aunt. It’s funny how you can feel such joy and happiness, and sadness, too,” Susan said, adding that those feelings don’t diminish the moment. “They’re just there.” BECOMING ADVOCATES FOR CRIME VICTIMS

In the days after Lisa’s murder, time became inconsequential for the Allisons.

“Our doctor knocked us out for a day or two after that. We were truly in shock. We were under a doctor’s care and our minister at the First United Methodist Church in Liberty was there for support. He said that it was like having open heart surgery without the anesthesia,” Susan said. “This is why I have always been so interested in victims’ rights. After a trauma like this, your muscles are in pain. You are just in pain. It was good that we had people to support us throughout this.”

Susan says there are chunks of time missing from her memories.

“There are days and months I can’t recall,” she said.

Eventually, Mike was able to return to his CPA business, and, with some encouragement from her youngest daughter and friends, Susan returned to teaching at Liberty ISD.

Three years after the murder, the Allisons were invited by then District Attorney Mike Little to attend a candlelight vigil for crime victims, hosted by his office at the Liberty County Courthouse.

“After that, they started doing it as a yearly thing in April. Then they partnered up with the child abuse programs,” Susan said.

When asked if the vigils have helped, she said, “We are still here. I don’t know how they have helped but after a loss most people can hardly talk about it.”

The couple say that most people are not sure how to approach or speak to crime victims, even if they have been friends for years.

“People don’t know what to say to you. We talk about Lisa all the time. It’s okay to talk about it. It’s okay to remember our loss. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Just be yourself. Give us a hug,” Susan said. “There are two things I’ve come to know about the crime victims’ rights night. First, people need to realize that bad things happen, and second, there are people in the community who are just trying to get through their day.”

One bit of advice Susan has for people dealing with crime victims is to know there is no formula, or right or wrong way.

“At first it made me very angry for people to tell me what I should be doing. They would bring me a book about handling grief. I would start reading it and think it was so silly,” she said. “There is no answer for people that is the same. Everyone has to do it by themselves as a lone person working through it. One day you might get up and your goal is to put your feet on the floor, and that’s all you can do for the day. The next day, you determine that you are going to get up and eat breakfast. Just don’t put yourself on a deadline. You can’t say that in six months or a year, I’ll be over this. That’s not how it works.”

The couple credits their family, church and friends for helping them through the process. They also are grateful for former DA Mike Little and the DA’s office, Liberty Police Department, Liberty County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Rangers for “being good to us in a difficult time,” Mike said.

“The community has done so many nice things for us. Even to this day, people donate to the scholarship program set up in Lisa’s memory,” he added.

For Mike, April 4, 1996, will forever be known as “the day our little town of Liberty lost its innocence.”

Until that day, the community was seemingly unaware that evil lurked.

“Nowadays you hear about things like this more often,” he said.

Susan said her natural paranoia as a mother was heightened for her remaining child.

“We thought absolutely nothing about Lisa going to get gas. This happened within five minutes of our house. It was unreal it could happen. How could someone disappear in broad daylight?” she said. “It’s horrible that we have to think about putting GPS on our children’s cars and phones. We must become a community of people again who will watch out for each other’s children.”

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