IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The father of one of the two missing Iowa cousins could learn Friday whether he must stand trial next week on domestic abuse or drug charges, raising the possibility that he could be sent to prison even as the search continues.
Dan Morrissey, 36, was scheduled to appear Friday in Black Hawk County court in Waterloo for a pretrial conference covering four separate cases, including one in which he is charged with assaulting his estranged wife, Misty Morrissey, the mother of missing 10-year-old Lyric Cook. Three other cases charge him with possessing, dealing and making methamphetamines and a range of other drug charges that could lock up him up for decades if he's convicted.
Lyric and 8-year-old Elizabeth Collins have been missing since July 13, when they went for a bike ride in Collins' neighborhood in Evansdale. Their bikes were found a mile away near a lake, and investigators say they have no idea what happened to them. The FBI on Wednesday made public new photographs of the smiling girls taken in recent months as the search continues.
The girls' aunt, Tammy Brousseau, said Morrissey backed out of a plea agreement in the cases earlier this month because he did not want to be jailed immediately, which it required. She said she believed he would ultimately accept a plea bargain rather than take his chances at trials to reduce the potential prison term he faces.
"If I was in Dan's position, I couldn't imagine being put behind bars during a time like this," she said. "My heart just sinks."
Investigators have been closely scrutinizing Dan and Misty Morrissey and have subjected both of them to multiple polygraph tests. At the same time, they say they are not considered suspects in the case and are looking into their backgrounds and associates only so as not to discount any possible leads.
All four cases pending against Morrissey are scheduled for trial beginning Tuesday. But a judge is expected to use Friday's hearing to determine whether any of them are ready for trial, and set the order in which they will be prosecuted.
Morrissey's defense lawyer, Kevin Schoeberl, said Wednesday that he has not spoken with Morrissey about whether he'll seek a delay in the cases given the ongoing search for his daughter. But he said, "Under his personal situation, yeah, that may be a possibility."
The day before both girls vanished, court records show Morrissey appeared in court for a hearing in which he was scheduled to change his pleas in all four cases, suggesting a deal covering all of them had been reached with prosecutors. But he decided not to plead guilty, records show, and the cases were scheduled for trial. The five most serious charges carry possible sentences of 45 years in prison apiece.
Schoeberl said he knows why Morrissey did not plead guilty July 12 but declined to discuss it. Prosecutor Brad Walz has declined to comment on plea negotiations.
Black Hawk County Attorney Tom Ferguson declined comment on whether his office would resist any further delay in Morrissey's cases. "Ultimately, that will be left up to the court to decide which, if any, of the cases will go to trial," he said.
Morrissey's most recent legal troubles began last July, when court records show he was pulled over in Waterloo and found to be in possession of baggies of methamphetamine and marijuana. The next month, he was arrested and charged with domestic abuse after police said he threw Misty Morrissey to the ground, smashed her face into the floor, put his knee over her neck so she could barely breathe, and broke her finger.
Morrissey was ordered to have no-contact with his wife, but that order was modified last week to allow the two to appear together "in connection with the ongoing investigation concerning their daughter" while police are also present.
In October, officers found Morrissey hiding in the porch of a vacant house and found additional drugs, including an "8-ball" of meth nicknamed Blue Shards that he said he was about to deliver, according to a criminal complaint. In December, police served a warrant at a home where they had detected a "chemical odor," found meth-making materials such as lithium batteries, fuel, empty pseudoephedrine blister packs and boxes, and arrested Morrissey, another complaint shows.
Morrissey has been free on bond since May. Last week, a judge ordered him under the supervision of parole agents with the Iowa Department of Corrections pending his trials.