A Mother’s Prerogative: An Interview with Reverend Marguerite Morris (Part 1)
This month, our digital content director Emma Buchman interviewed activist, civil rights leader, and longtime friend of the Foundation, Rev. Marguerite Morris.
Rev. Morris is the founder of For Kathy’s Sake and the C.A.S.T. of Anne Arundel County. She is a well-known and highly respected civil rights advocate in Anne Arundel County, MD. Her greatest areas of advocacy include accountability from law enforcement and government entities, and civilian oversight of police misconduct and brutality. Both of Rev. Morris’ organizations have been key partners of our Maryland partner, March On Maryland, since its founding.
In 2021, after a nine year legal battle where she acted mostly as a pro se litigant, Rev. Morris successfully argued her case against the Anne Arundel County Police Department and the Office of the Medical Examiner of Maryland. An administrative law judge found that Rev. Morris’ allegations that the AAC Police and the medical examiner mishandled her daughter Kathy’s case, and ordered Kathy’s manner of death be changed from “suicide” to “undetermined.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and readability. March On Foundation does not endorse any candidates running for office.
Emma Buchman (Digital Content Director, MO Foundation):
All right, thank you again for taking the time to do this. Some of these questions I asked because I’ve wanted to know these answers for a while, and this is the perfect format for me to find out. The first question [is], when did you become an activist and what inspired you to pivot more towards activism?
Rev. Marguerite Morris (Founder, For Kathy’s Sake & the C.A.S.T. of Anne Arundel County):
I have to really go back to, I’m gonna say in the late 1990s. I got married in ’87, had my child in ’90. I’ve always had a heart for children, so I started working with youth; and when working with youth, I found myself actually starting to advocate for youth. And I think that’s where my activism starts, when I really look back.
When you’re a foster parent, you’re not supposed to step out of that line, but I had a placement of a child- her father was incarcerated, her mother was deceased, her grandmother had put her out. She wound up [in] my care, was doing really well. And I had also had some other foster kids and I saw the agency starting to try to shift the kids around: one, because of money; two, because of meanness, because I had started stepping up for one of the children. I saw the agency starting to do stuff that wasn’t really caring about the kids; it was about control. So I’d have to say that my activism, being an activist, started with actually fostering kids and wanting to do the right thing for those children. I’d have to say it started there.
And interestingly enough, my first placement was in Anne Arundel County. I got a mom, she had a baby, and she was already nine months pregnant with the second baby, or something like that. I mean, they were like right there together… So I had them and for some reason or another, she wound up leaving my home and that was a real big mistake. And they were trying to put us all back together, and, make a long story short, I was very attached to the three of them, but we didn’t have control. But what I said to my husband at the time, I said, “If those babies, her babies, ever come into custody, we’re going for ’em.” And one day I got a phone call, and they didn’t give a name, they just said, “Ms. Morris, the kids have come into care.” And I was in Annapolis, in a court, probably about 30 minutes. I was boom, down there, filing papers like I’ve done, now, through the years. I had no clue about seeking custody without an attorney of those kids.
That was where my activism started: trying to get those kids out of the system, and that led to other kids we were trying to advocate for. So absolutely my care of children, advocating for them without an attorney just to do the right thing by them, irregardless of pay, just to see them in healthy places.
What is one childhood experience that still shapes who you are today?
I really have an answer for you: I was a little girl in Meade Village. One of the things I say to kids is, and what I believe about children, is children know no more than the walls that they’re exposed to, so we have to take ’em outside of those walls. And as a little girl in Meade Village, there were two white women that were Girl Scout volunteers. And they came into Meade Village and they formed, you know, little Girl Scout troops, and they taught us things.
One of the most impactful things- first, their presence impacted my life in such a greatness, that it absolutely is a reason why I have gotten so involved in so many things in community and [volunteering]. They took me outside, they showed me what budgeting was, what teamwork was. We’d never been camping, we’d never seen really anything outside of there, and these two women came in and I’ve never forgotten that to this day.
I say that those two women do not know to this day the impact they had on that little colored girl, because when I look back at what inspired me to do for others, that was absolutely one of the foundational points was those two white women. They could have been Spanish, I don’t know. They weren’t Black. They came into Meade Village and volunteered in that community with the kids in that community, showed me a world I had never seen before. And you would think it wasn’t a big deal. I’d never been camping. I didn’t know what it was to go to the grocery store and buy things on a budget and plan a meal and help work with people to cook a meal. So it was all new things.
…I just felt the presence of the Lord on me so much one Sunday. It felt like it was a physical thing, a knot in my stomach. And I realized in my mind it was the weight of souls and I couldn’t bear that weight. I said to the Lord, I said, “God, God, if it’s you… I’ll do your will, just take this off of me and I’ll do what you want me to do.”
When did you officially join the clergy and what made you want to join?
My earliest experience with God, I’ll tell you that- that was as a little girl. And as a little girl, I used to imagine myself married to God. Now, married to God is a nun, but I didn’t know that! I said, “I’m married to God,” and I would play outside and I just knew that I loved the Lord. Didn’t know much, but I just knew I loved God.
And so as life went on, I always had this joining and adoring of God, but I didn’t know about God. I just knew I didn’t wanna be that far from God; even as a young single girl, the things I chose to do and chose not to do. So then I got married and so on and so forth, and our foundation was really spiritual [but] not living like… Christian people per se, but having that desire to be that. I think it was in maybe 1991 or 1992 that I accepted the call to go into ministry, but I had been walking with God before that.
And I’ll tell you something else- probably not one of your questions, but I dream, and I am not Catholic, at all, but I dream that Mother Teresa blessed my ministry. I will say that just as I’m sitting here with you, I had a dream that Mother Teresa took my face in her hands and she kissed me on both cheeks. Dreamed it, just like I’m sitting here having the conversation, so that was blessing my ministry.
As far as actually answering the call and being ordained, it was about 1992. I felt the calling… one day I just felt the presence of the Lord on me so much one Sunday. It felt like it was a physical thing, a knot in my stomach. And I’m riding down the road and I feel this knot in my stomach and I’m feeling sick. And I realized in my mind it was the weight of souls and I couldn’t bear that weight. I said to the Lord, I said, “God, God, if it’s you, I’ll do what you want me to do. I’ll do your will, just take this off of me and I’ll do what you want me to do.”
And at that moment that weight lifted, but it was the weight of souls on my spirit. And I said yes to God. Since then I’ve been ordained several times, ‘cause you know, when you change churches and change denominations and all, people take you through their own ordinations… I’m going through the ordination process with the AME church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which hopefully will be my last ordination for life!
I hope so too, ‘cause I can see how much work it is. Especially ‘cause it must be the same thing as transferring college credits- you’ve already taken most of the courses, it’s just these small differences.
Yeah, there are differences. And they have a prescribed course of study that takes you a couple years, depends upon what you’re doing. Even though I’ve been in ministry for years and already am ordained and licensed and all of that, for the AME Church I decided to step back and go through their process. So [the program] I’m on now, this was our first year. They recently named all of the candidates and what level of ordination we were trying to achieve; and we were passed on from the first class to the second year. So I have one more year before I’m ordained, and that’s locally. So that’s where it’s at.
But if you want to do a wedding or something, I can do it! In ministry, I’m still fully licensed to do whatever I do; but as far as doing it under the AME Church name, that’s what I’m not allowed to do.
So, I’m asking this ‘cause not everyone who reads the site’s gonna know what For Kathy’s Sake is, so tell me a little bit about For Kathy’s Sake. When did you start the organization and why?
Okay. Now, talk about transitions… When I accepted the call to minister, I was up in New Jersey, we were stationed at McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey. My husband retired [from] there, we came back and when we came back to Maryland, we actually started a ministry about 1995 or so. So we actually had a ministry before For Kathy’s Sake, we had church and all that.
Part of the ministry was a shelter I started called Leah’s House. We worked with victims of abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking; successfully ran that program for eight years and actually affected the lives and touched lives of women from around the world, literally. Kathy, my daughter, was with us every step of the way in ministry, she was a vital part of our ministry. And you could say that when that abusive situation she was in exploded, it took our child and For Kathy’s Sake was started, I think in 2012. She died in 2012 and I actually started it then. Didn’t quite know where it would go, what it would do, but, in her memory, we started it out of the Leah’s House program.
You don’t have to answer this question… but again, since not everyone knows the story of Kathy as well as I do, did you want to explain a little bit what Kathy’s story is?
Well, sure. Kathy, my daughter, was away at college. She was in her fourth year. We had raised Kathy as a good Christian girl, but we always instilled in her the right to choose and tried to be realistic about life and not shield her from too much of life. She was always an astute, focused girl. When she went to college preparatory class she always got honors, always high grades, highly academically achieved and all of that.
So again, my beautiful Kathy, she was a beautiful girl with a beautiful, gentle spirit, always helping, always loved children. She went away to college, and when she left for college she had a boyfriend. And there wasn’t a problem with that. She met a nice guy, but somewhere in college, she broke up with him and met somebody else. He was just a bad guy, and Kathy… she tried to be like the others, but it always was an awkward fit, in my opinion. And what I mean by that is that there were certain goodnesses about her, but she tried to fit into other places.
So she meets this guy, which isn’t the end of the world; but she fell in love with him and he was a bad character. He happened to be a United States soldier. In my opinion, he was what I would call a narcissist. But she fell in love with him. And it was [an] example of domestic violence: the warning signs were there, but by the time she figured them out, she was already hooked. He was looking for a victim, and he chose her. In many ways, he chose the wrong one, because I don’t know if you know about this, but a lot of the evidence we had against him in her death were things that Kathy left. She was highly intelligent.
He was looking for a victim, he was looking to do the marriage thing with somebody. He was a soldier that already had a girlfriend, it was all about money for him. And he chose Kathy. He victimized Kathy, she was a victim of marital fraud.
He got her to marry him and not tell her parents. So for the last nine months of her life, she really deteriorated, and we didn’t know why. We saw that she was away at college; we thought she had a bad boyfriend. We kept questioning, you know, is it drugs, what is going on with her? Because we could see a change in her demeanor, but we couldn’t figure out what it was, and what it was behind the scenes is that she met this guy.
She’d done this thing that was contrary to what her parents had taught her, but she wanted to come clean and tell her parents. And she was dealing with that pressure because he was leaving her on her own to tell her parents. All of that was weighing on her; she’s in her last year of school, all that’s going on.
Make a long story short, she was a victim of marital fraud, and we believe that the other women and individuals involved may have had something to do with her death. Kathy died May 6th, 2012, which is tomorrow. 10 years from tomorrow. Her body was found at Anne Arundel County Community College [at Arundel Mills] in a car on a Saturday night, in a parking lot that was full of movie goers. Yet, no one really saw anything; or, if they saw something, I don’t think they reported it because you know that the police mistakenly reported her death as a suicide.
The thing that bothers me now, even though this is very long, is the fact that we’re 10 years into it. It’ll be great to get some sort of media coverage to the fact that maybe persons saw something 10 years ago, but because it was ruled a suicide 10 years ago, they didn’t say something. Because there’s no way that the things that happened that night, that somebody didn’t see something.
So to wrap that up: she died 10 years ago, it’s been a nine year legal battle with entities, Anne Arundel County Police, Medical Examiner for the State of Maryland, all of them, to get a correction to her death certificate. When she died, they ruled her death a suicide within 48 hours after having Googled the manner of death car-side while her body was still in the car. It came back [as] a kind of suicide, and the police and others operated from that premise for nine years, even though they knew differently.
The thing about the Police Department is that anything that would’ve given any clue or suggestion that Kathy had died any other way than suicide, was suppressed and manipulated.
Now, as far as manner of death- she was found with two grills lit in her car, and she died from carbon monoxide toxicity. How that got into her system is what is being disputed. We know she died from carbon monoxide toxicity, but how did it get into her system? Was it self-inflicted or was it set up? And because of all the things around that didn’t make any sense in reference to her death and the death scene, it is strongly suggested that it was not self-inflicted. So in 2021, they ordered the death certificate change.
My hope is that [when] we find the persons of interest, that once they start questioning that, somebody’s gonna confess, because I’ve talked with them. They’re just like snakes, devouring each other.
In theory, Kathy’s case is- I mean, not in theory, legitimately, it is open, whether the Anne Arundel County Police acknowledge it or not, her case is open, especially since an independent law judge ruled that they had erred in her case. What would you say as the mother, as the chief investigator of her case for close to 10 years, how much damage would you say the handling of her case by the Anne Arundel County Police did to bringing Kathy justice?
You mean the monetary damage or the damage [to the case]? Because there’s two different things. The damage that they did, if we talk about damage to the case, we know, and I’ve been realistic about this, they allowed so much to be screwed up that even if they found someone to charge, they damaged so much evidence that you wouldn’t be able to actually charge them and actually make it stick in court. My hope is that [when] we find the persons of interest, that once they start questioning that, somebody’s gonna confess, because I’ve talked with them. They’re just like snakes, devouring each other.
This is one that Reverend Stephen Tillet brought up- they implied that her phone was with her the entire time that she was in that parking lot, but they didn’t pull the reports to prove that. So they don’t know where her cell phone was. We literally got the GPS records; and I have an investigator that has flown in every single year around this time of month, and to give them (the alleged persons of interest) a little kick, we go out and we do something investigative-wise.
One year, we took the GPS settings and we drove the course, and the course leaves the [Arundel Mills] mall, runs up around down Reese Road, comes back around to Route 1, it’s a whole big square, and goes back to the mall. So even her phone being on her body, they’re not able to prove it. We’re able to prove it possibly wasn’t, but they can’t definitively say because they didn’t order the reports. The reports have been destroyed. Even Rev. Tillett made a suggestion, “Why don’t you guys pull these reports?” Because I got the internal communications [from the investigation], we know what the conversations were like. And all they did was mark that he asked the question, but nobody pulled the reports. We know that because the internal communications show that.
So again, you didn’t definitively figure out where the phone was. Anything with her body is obviously null and void. There’s 12 minutes of video, they allow most of the video footage from that night from three separate cameras (getting a little emotional here), to be destroyed. They knew it was destroyed, and for five years they told me it wasn’t destroyed. They kept saying [that] until 2018, Chief of Police says, “Oh, by the way — yeah, that video was destroyed.”
Well, wait a minute: it’s 2018, but the video was destroyed in 2012 and you guys kept saying there was some other reason the footage was missing… That point alone is how I was able to get a police officer in 2020 or ‘21 to perjure himself on the stand, because he didn’t know what the Chief of Police had said. I backed him into a corner about what he was still saying about the stupid footage. And he says, “Oh, well, there’s another piece of footage.” Well, there’s no footage, there’s only the 12 minutes that we have. What footage are you talking about?
So those things being damaged, you’re talking about footage gone; you didn’t alibi anyone, that’s still a possibility. The car is gone, they didn’t fingerprint the car. The police officer that testified on my behalf, said that everything in that car should have been tested, and they didn’t do it. They released the car within 48 hours. They released the cell phone within 48 hours. All of that is damage to the case.
Now, let’s go to the other side of damage. We estimated that in just the private investigators and persons to measure [just] a piece of what [the police] did, and we came up to over $200,000 in monetary damages. I’ve been in bankruptcy twice and still am because I did whatever I needed to do as a mom, even though I am on a fixed income.
Somebody said this to me: “Well, it wasn’t the police. It was the medical examiner’s office.” Bull crap. The medical examiner went along with what the police kept saying, and the police kept telling the medical examiner false information. They lied to us about the DNA; medical examiner doesn’t do DNA. Police do DNA. There was so much false information, but for the medical examiner it was, “The police must be right.” So they went right along with it. And that was the problem.
So in 2021, when people come to me and they go, “Oh, well, yeah, that wasn’t the police, that was the medical [examiner],” that’s bull crap. That’s the story they’re playing locally to keep making it look like the police didn’t do anything. This absolutely was a police department screw up. The medical examiner went along with what the Anne Arundel County Police Departments screw up at: false reporting, manipulated reporting. And those officers are still on the force. And I dare any one of those officers that I name, I dare them to take it on, because they know I’m telling the truth.
Part 2 of our interview with Rev. Morris is ready to read! We talk more about accountability and transparency from the police and Rev. Morris’ plans for future activism.