By Max Londberg And Ian Cummings The Kansas City Star
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tammy Dee Widger’s charges in the fatal shooting of Clinton Officer Ryan Morton last month have been amended and now include first-degree murder, the Henry County Prosecutor’s Office said Wednesday.
Widger also now faces two counts of first-degree assault. She originally faced second-degree murder and drug charges.
First-degree murder carries a maximum penalty of the death sentence or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Officers responded to Widger’s home in Clinton by mistake in early March after a 911 call was made 20 miles away. James Waters fatally wounded Morton and injured two other officers in a shooting, police said.
“Although it is believed that James Waters actually shot the three police officers,” the Henry County Prosecutor’s Office said in a release, “Missouri law provides that if an accessory to a crime … aids another person in planning, committing or attempting to commit the offense, the accessory may be charged with the same offense.”
The release added that aiding can occur either before or during an offense.
Widger had earlier told The Star that she never expected gunfire to break out and had no reason to believe officers were in danger that night.
She said she did not know Waters had a gun and thought he had left the house by a back door to avoid police.
She said she was in the house with officers when the shooting started.
Police reviewed surveillance footage from a camera installed at the residence. Waters is not seen leaving the residence leading up to the shooting, according to police.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Widger said. “In the blink of an eye, my life changed. I didn’t want this.”
According to updated charging documents filed by investigators:
Investigators discovered a text message in which Waters asks Widger to “go home and load both of the 410’s now.” Police do not say when the text was sent.
Shotguns using the .410 caliber were found in the residence after the shooting.
A witness stated that Waters often carried a weapon and had told the witness that “he was going out with a bang. If anything ever happened to him, he was going to go out shooting.” Such comments were common from Waters and made in the presence of Widger, the witness said.
Police also write that Widger had “adamantly” stated Waters had left the residence when he hadn’t, and she “denied there were any weapons in the residence.”
A pistol was found in Widger’s purse, police state. Another witness told police of seeing “all kinds” of guns at the residence.
Waters had a large rifle magazine and said Widger had purchased it for him, according to a witness. Waters obtained a rifle without a magazine from two unknown people a few days before the shooting, the witness added.
John Picerno, a Kansas City-based defense attorney, said the distinction between first- and second-degree murder is that a perpetrator must display “cool reflection upon the matter, no matter how brief.”
He called the first-degree murder charge in Widger’s case “a stretch,” adding that even if Widger provided bullets to Waters or loaded his weapon, she “has no idea what he’s going to use that for.”
“I don’t see where there’s any fact … that she coolly reflected upon the matter of taking a person’s life,” Picerno said.
Widger also faces felony drug charges.
©2018 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)