OXFORD — More details of the relationship between a missing Lowndes County woman and her stepfather were revealed Wednesday, before a federal judge gave attorneys 10 days to file briefs prior to ruling on a motion to suppress evidence in the trial of her stepfather, who is accused of child pornography charges.
Robert Warren Triplett, 56, of 181 Golding Road, earlier pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court to charges of activities regarding materials constituting or containing child pornography.
Triplett was arrested in October when investigators found explicit photos of minor children on a computer obtained from his home during an investigation into the disappearance of his stepdaughter.
Triplett”s stepdaughter, Kaila Morris, 21, has been missing since Sept. 17, when she was last seen by Triplett, who said she left the home he shared with Morris” mother, Bonnie Morris Triplett, in a dark-colored van or sport utility vehicle, with an unknown person or people.
Morris” mother was vacationing in Florida at the time.
No Probable Cause?
In a three-hour hearing in federal court in Oxford Wednesday, Triplett”s attorney, Robert Laher, argued investigators did not specify computers in an initial warrant to search Triplett”s home.
Investigators had “no probable cause that computers had any data relevant to” the Morris case and were “unable to connect seizing the computer and trying to find Kaila,” he told Investigator Ryan Rickert with the Lowndes County Sheriff”s Office.
Rickert testified the warrant mentioned “bed sheets, electronic devices, electronic memory devices, cell phones, DNA, hand-cutting and hand-digging tools and vehicles.”
Additionally, he said the warrant, in particular the mention of “electronic memory devices,” was meant for “anything an individual could use to save data.”
“We knew Kaila used Facebook and communicated with friends and family by e-mail,” Rickert said. “She wasn”t there to tell us what computer she might have used in the home. We wanted to find Kaila.”
Rickert also testified Bonnie Morris Triplett told investigators her husband “recently changed the hard drive in his computer.”
And Trey Triplett, Triplett”s son, testified Wednesday he earlier gave investigators his own laptop to search and “provided information to authorities” his father had “downloaded child porn” on another computer in the house.
Matt Manley, the IT administrator for the City of Columbus and computer forensic investigator for the Columbus Police Department, testified a second warrant was sought, and obtained, as soon as he noticed pornographic images on the computers seized from Triplett”s home.
“At that time, we were looking for Kaila Morris,” he testified, noting investigators searched for “images of inappropriate action between Triplett and Morris, maps, anything of that nature.”
He began by searching for “documents and texts, then proceeded to images,” he said.
“As we came upon child pornography images, we immediately stopped, shut it down and called the sheriff”s office and advised them to get another search warrant before we can continue.”
Investigators found “about 4,000 images” on the three computers listed in the search warrant, he noted.
“It became a two-for-one case,” Manley said of Morris” disappearance and the child porn investigation. “We had to work both sides of the case now.”
Triplett admitted to looking at pornographic images “three to four times a week,” testified Clay Bain of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, noting Triplett, in an interview with investigators, waived his rights to an attorney.
“We talked about the porn,” Bain recalled. “He had viewed porn three to four times a week. He had used it while his wife was gone.”
Bain testified Triplett said he thought the “girls” in the images “were of age, 16 or 18,” but Laher noted Bain”s written documentation does not reflect Triplett identifying them as being age 16.
Bain also said his notes reflect Triplett said he “preferred to look at women in their 20s.”
Dirty bed sheets and shovels
Triplett has not been charged in the Morris disappearance, but much of Wednesday”s testimony referred to the Morris investigation and Triplett”s relationship with Morris.
Prosecutor Clay Joyner began the hearing by confirming several facts of the case with Rickert: Triplett was the last person to see Morris and Triplett told investigators he “washed Morris” bed sheets,” the night before her disappearance “because she was complaining they were dirty.”
“That raises suspicion there might be evidence on those items,” Rickert said.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Agent Chris Cheatham also testified Triplett “confirmed he had washed the bed sheets” and said he “would typically do chores of that nature.”
Rickert also testified Triplett, on Sept. 23, told investigators Morris, the day of her disappearance, asked him to “check” family-owned property in Alabama and he took “an ax and a shovel” to the property where, in his four-wheeled vehicle, he “got stuck for two hours.”
Triplett made these statements during an interview before a polygraph test was administered, Rickert said.
Cheatham, who testified Triplett only asked for an attorney after the polygraph examiner told Triplett he felt he was “not being truthful,” testified Triplett told “law enforcement (Morris) might be at a location in Alabama,” because it was “on the way” to her friend”s house she reportedly was going to visit at the time of her disappearance.
In questioning by the FBI, Triplett admitted to “inappropriately touching” Morris, Rickert testified, noting Triplett said he had “massaged her,” while she was topless, and “pulled her sleeping shorts down, exposing the tops of her buttocks” to “massage her upper thighs.”
Cheatham said Triplett told investigators his wife was present at some of the massages, but she was absent during others.
Additionally, he said Triplett told investigators he would “turn away” when Morris removed her shirt, although he admitted to kissing her “on the lips” at least twice.
When, the second time he kissed her, “it appeared she did not like it,” Triplett said he stopped and did not repeat the action again, Cheatham testified.
Triplett, who had past arrests for sex crimes in Mississippi and Louisiana, was on non-adjudicated probation from 2003 charges of attempted sexual battery in Jackson County.
His probation was revoked April 8 and he was sentenced to serve 10 years in the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
The search for Morris is ongoing.
Anyone with information on Morris” whereabouts should call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-530-7151, 911 or the LCSO at 662-328-6788.
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