A bailiff led Del. Joe Morrissey out of a Henrico County courtroom today in handcuffs to begin a jail sentence he agreed to serve while simultaneously maintaining his innocence.
The 57-year-old defense lawyer and lawmaker struck a plea deal to forgo a jury trial scheduled to begin next week. Morrissey entered an Alford plea to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. In exchange, the state dropped four felony charges against him. An Alford plea is the equivalent of pleading guilty while maintaining one did not commit the crime one is accused of.
A judge sentenced Morrissey to 12 months in jail with six months suspended and five years of probation. He will serve his sentence in the Richmond city jail and be eligible for a work-release program that would allow him to leave during the day, but sleep in the jail at night. The provision will likely allow him to participate in the 2015 session of the General Assembly, which begins Wednesday, Jan. 14.
A special grand jury indicted Morrissey in late June. He was charged with four felonies and a misdemeanor alleging that he had sex with a 17-year-old receptionist at his law firm and distributed nude photos of her using his cell phone. If convicted by a jury, he could have faced up to 41 years in prison.
William Neely, the Spotsylvania County commonwealth’s attorney appointed to handle the case, said after the hearing that justice was served.
“Fighting Joe Morrissey for the first time in his life admitted to guilt in a criminal court,” Neely said.
Asked why the commonwealth agreed to the deal, Neely cited the case against Morrissey being built on circumstantial evidence, as well as non-cooperation from the former receptionist and her mother, whom he said sought to cover up Morrissey’s alleged wrongdoing. Neely also said the young woman is at least five or six months pregnant, and Henrico investigators observed her spending last night at Morrissey’s home.
Ward Armstrong, one of Morrissey's attorneys, told reporters his client entered the plea to avoid the possibility of a long prison sentence that would keep him away from his 2-year-old daughter and prevent him from representing his constituents in the 74th District.
“[Morrissey] does not believe he is guilty of any crime,” Armstrong says.
This story will be updated