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IUPUI School of Education faculty member called to testify in Texas murder case

Mary Jo Dare
Mary Jo Dare


October 18, 2012

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Texas legal authorities are asking a clinical associate professor at the Indiana University School of Education at IUPUI to testify Friday, Oct. 19, in the sentencing phase of a high-profile murder case in San Antonio.

Mary Jo Dare will provide expert analysis regarding the treatment of James David Morrison's emotional issues; Morrison was convicted this month of the April 2009 shooting death of his girlfriend’s sister and mother.

“I’m not dealing with the guilt or innocence at all,” Dare said. “I’m looking at his disability issue.”
The Morrison trial began the sentencing phase this week. Morrison faces either life in prison or death by lethal injection. The case has received wide media coverage in San Antonio.

Morrison’s attorneys claimed he shot in self-defense. He faces a second trial for shooting his pregnant girlfriend in the incident. She survived but suffered a miscarriage. Under Texas law, causing a miscarriage brings a capital murder charge.

Dare has testified in eight Indiana death row cases over the past decade, including a recent case before the Indiana Supreme Court. None of the cases she has testified in have resulted in a death sentence. Appellate attorneys have most often called Dare to testify based on the landmark 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Atkins v. Virginia, which found that executing someone with “mental retardation” violated the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The Supreme Court ruling doesn’t hold in the Morrison case, but Dare said Morrison does have a history of severe emotional problems.

“What they’re looking at is the mitigating circumstances and whether he got the kind of programs he should have had in school that might have changed his life,” she said. “There’s an indication that from kindergarten he had significant emotional issues. He was not placed in special education until fifth grade, and even at that point was not given the support he needed. There is research to say that how a child is taught to deal with anger has a huge impact on what they become as an adult.”

Dare’s expertise comes from many years as a researcher and practitioner in special education. Dare teaches special education undergraduate and graduate courses and is the author of numerous articles on special education issues. She served as the director of special education and student services for the Indianapolis Public Schools for more than a decade.

“My life has been urban education, and it’s been advocating for people with disabilities,” Dare said. “That’s the passion that brings me in. What would lead me to a particular case is if the records indicate there are some issues that were not considered or that would have had an effect, particularly on the defendant’s judgment.”