For the third time in the past 33 months, the family of Kelly Currin Morris, a murdered North Carolina mother of two, has been dealt a losing hand.
The first came in September 2008, when the then-28-year-old disappeared without a trace. The second came 14 months later, when her partial skeletal remains were found discarded in a remote wooded area.
Then, yesterday, came another blow, when Morris' killer -- her husband, William "Scott" Morris -- received a slap on the wrist for her murder.
"We are disappointed; we are very disappointed," Kelly's stepmother, Juanita Currin, told The Huffington Post.
On Monday, Scott Morris pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder for his wife's slaying. In exchange, he was sentenced to 13 to 16 years in prison.
Currin said she and Kelly Morris' father, Pat Currin, are upset by the outcome.
"We think it is a shame," she said. "When the best somebody can get is 16 years, that doesn't speak much to the value of the law in North Carolina, in our opinion."
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On the morning of Sept. 4, 2008, firefighters in Stem, a small community 20 miles northeast of Durham, were called to a fire at the Morris home in the 3200 block of Tump Wilkins Road. By the time they arrived on the scene, the house was fully engulfed in flames.
Authorities later located Scott Morris, 34, at his place of business in nearby Creedmoor. Two young children who lived with the couple, eight- and five-year-old girls, were in school at the time. One was their biological child. The other Kelly gave birth to prior to her marriage to Scott.
Kelly, however, did not show up for work that morning and was nowhere to be found.
Later that morning, Morris' 2005 Honda Accord was found parked in an undeveloped subdivision approximately a mile from her home. Inside, police found her purse, keys and cell phone.
Scott Morris told police he last saw his wife the previous night. He said she went out to look for their dog and he fell asleep. When he woke up the next morning, he said she was gone -- he assumed -- to work.
Friends of Kelly Morris told police they were concerned for her safety. Her husband, they said, was possessive and controlling.
During the second week of September 2008, roughly one week after Kelly Morris went missing, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ruled arson as the cause of the fire at the Morris family home. That same day, police named her husband a "person of interest" in the fire and in his wife’s disappearance.
According to Pat Currin, he and his daughter had an extremely close relationship. She was, he said on more than one occasion, "daddy's little girl."
Currin, along with assistance from dozens of community volunteers and veteran missing person search coordinator Al Mignacci, organized dozens of community volunteers into search teams and picked apart every piece of terrain in the region that they could get access to.
On two occasions, members of the missing person search and recovery group Texas EquuSearch traveled to North Carolina to assist in the search efforts. They used remote control drone planes and side-scan sonar to search for the missing mom.
According to search and rescue experts, the amount of time, effort and manpower put into the search for Kelly Morris in the 14 months she was missing is unmatched by any other missing person search in history, including the search for Caylee Anthony in Florida and Natalee Holloway in Aruba.
The search for Kelly Morris came to an end on November 17, 2009, when her partial skeleton was found on the grounds of the Tar River Fox Pen in Creedmoor. The remains were positively identified using dental records. The medical examiner was unable to determine a cause of death, but ruled Morris was likely the victim of homicide.
Following the discovery, authorities charged Scott Morris with first-degree murder. He was placed in the Granville County Detention Center without bond. At the time, the Granville County district attorney announced plans to seek the death penalty.
On January 7, 2010, a judge awarded full custody of Morris' younger daughter, whom she had had with Scott Morris, to the Currins.
As authorities geared up for Scott Morris’ trial, the Currins were approached by prosecutors about the potential plea deal.
"They didn't feel like they had the evidence," Juanita Currin said. "They felt if it went to trial a jury wouldn't find him guilty of first-degree and they were afraid if you got the wrong jury members it could get hung up and he could have gotten off without anything."
Fearing for their granddaughter's safety, Currin said she and her husband reluctantly agreed to the plea deal.
"We were very concerned about him getting off and felt like the most important thing was for him to be in prison until they are grown. We are all very disappointed but in our circumstance that was the best it was going to be and nobody wanted to risk him getting off."
Granville County District Attorney Sam Currin, no relation to Kelly Morris' family, did not immediately return calls for comment from The Huffington Post today.
While Morris will have a minimal amount of time to serve for his wife's murder, Juanita Currin said they can at least take solace in the fact that they can now lay their daughter to rest - authorities plan to release her remains to the family next week.
"The 14 months that we were looking for Kelly were the worst," Currin said. "To know he did something to her and the fear of never being able to find her was pretty bad. I think he covered his tracks well and I think it is a miracle we were ever able to ... have any of her remains found."