“True Crime” Pays for Jewell Alum
By Carolyn Chapman

For those who tuned into the Lifetime Television movie “Fatal Desire,” starring Anne Heche and Eric Roberts recently, you might have seen a familiar face. That’s because Jewell alumnus Mark Morris ’76 was in the crowd. It was the least the film’s director could do for the author of the book that sparked the movie.

Morris, who covers federal courts as a reporter for The Kansas City Star, teamed up with Paul Janczewski, a reporter for The Flint (Mich.) Journal, to write “Fatal Error,” a true-crime book detailing a case that affected both states. The book spent one week on The New York Times Bestseller List.

Morris uncovered the case through the course of his work. The case involved Jerry Cassaday, a former local law enforcement officer who relocated to Reno, Nev., and began work as a pit boss in one of the casinos. He met Sharee

Mark Morris, WJC '76
Miller, a bored Michigan housewife, in an online chat room. Sharee spun a web of lies to convince Jerry that her husband was abusing her. Weakened by alcohol and pills, Jerry traveled to Michigan and shot Sharee’s husband in the fall of 1999. When Sharee later dumped him, Jerry committed suicide in 2000. Morris says Miller remains in a Michigan prison but maintains her innocence.

“The material was immediately appealing,” Morris says. “I’m intrigued by smart, devious women.” It’s no coincidence that one of Morris’ favorite movies is “Body Heat,” in which Kathleen Turner convinces William Hurt to kill her husband.

Mark Morris, actor Eric Roberts, and Paul Janczewski

Morris spent several months in Flint covering the case and the trial. When he and Paul discussed the case during court breaks, they decided to co-write a book. “We liked each other too much to compete,” Morris says. It turned out that Jerry left much of the evidence on his home computer and in a briefcase stuffed with a paper trail of the Internet love affair. “We didn’t think much about computer forensics at the time,” Morris says.

Morris enjoyed the movie-making process and said Anne Heche was nothing but nice.
“She asked Paul and me a lot of questions about her character,” he said. The movie was filmed in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Morris appears in many of the casino shots.

So how did this WJC music major wind up as a federal court reporter? After graduating from William Jewell, Morris attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison to pursue a master’s degree in music history. “I really was a terrible musician,” he says with a laugh. Halfway through the program, he realized he didn’t want to be a college professor and decided to switch to journalism. “This was the late 1970s when the Watergate scandal had just broken and journalists were gods,” he says.

His first job took him to Santa Fe, N.M., but when his wife, Jewell alumna Carolyn Cupp, was accepted to veterinary school at the University of Missouri, they moved back to

Mark and Paul on the set in a scene from the movie
Missouri. For the first three years he edited the Centralia Fireside Guard in Centralia, Mo., and then the Kingdom Daily Sun-Gazette in Fulton, Mo. He joined The Star in 1984 as an assistant city editor. He didn’t like management so he returned to reporting.

Actress Kathleen York with Mark and Paul

From his time on “the Hill,” he affectionately recalls many of his music professors, such as Phil Posey, Wes Forbis and Don Brown. Morris is originally from Texas. As a kid he played violin and attended a Baptist music camp in New Mexico. That’s where he met Phil Posey, who led him to William Jewell. He remembers serving as the assistant conductor at the opera workshop and performing as an independent in Tatler skits. “I remember wonderful times at William Jewell,” he says.

He finds himself returning to the William
Jewell College campus with his children for music contests and Boy Scout merit badge
events. His daughter, Sarah, attends Baylor University and son Will is a junior at Liberty High School.