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Bail is lowered in sex case

But authorities say they have a taped phone call in which pastor Randy Morrow apologizes to one of the reported victims.

By LEON M. TUCKER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 18, 2000


LARGO -- Bail for a Clearwater street minister charged with molesting three teenage boys was reduced to $45,000 Tuesday from the $120,000 set almost a week ago.

Randy Morrow, 40, of 1730 Joshua Court in Palm Harbor, was charged with three felony counts of lewd conduct and three felony counts of lewd exhibition with a minor.

Morrow remained in the Pinellas County Jail late Tuesday, but his lawyers said they expect he will post bail as early as today.

A 14-year-old and two 15-year-olds have told detectives Morrow molested them from April to June and gave them drugs and alcohol while they spent nights with him in a recreational vehicle, sheriff's deputies said.

Morrow's lawyers and supporters say the boys tried to extort money from him three months ago, telling the minister that if he didn't give them $1,000, they would make up a story about him.

"They don't care what they do to peoples' lives," said Charles Morrow, Randy's father. "He's my son and I want him exonerated, but I also want people to see this can happen to anyone."

Sheriff's Detective Matthew Miller says he has a taped conversation between Morrow and one of the alleged victims in which Morrow is heard apologizing for misdeeds.

"The victims brought out several times about the drugs and the alcohol and he apologized to the victim," Miller told Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Richard Luce. "The apology was related to the drugs, alcohol and sex."

"They say there is a confession," said John McGuire, Morrow's attorney. "If this is the case, it's easy for everyone. If not, the prosecution has a problem."

Sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said the tape was made during a telephone call from one of the alleged victims to Morrow that was arranged by sheriff's investigators. She said it eventually could be introduced as evidence.

"During the course of that phone call, certain admissions were made and are now in the hands of prosecutors," Pasha said. "That's what we can say at this time because (the tape) is not available until it is up for discovery."

On Tuesday, nearly 20 of Morrow's family and supporters huddled, sometimes praying, in the pews of the criminal courtroom waiting to testify.

"Because of Randy I was able to change some things in my life," said Keith Ward, a minister at Countryside Baptist Church, where Morrow was a youth minister before starting a street ministry in downtown Clearwater a few months ago.

Ward held up a cork board displaying snapshots of various other people he said Morrow helped. "Randy has walked the street and found these people and brought them into the church to help them do something with their lives," Ward said.

Several other people talked about the effect Morrow has had on their lives and asked a judge to release him on his own recognizance.

"Randy has been the greatest influence on my children," said Janet Thompson, the mother of two teenage boys. "I am very selective of who my boys are with. I would not allow them to be around if we believed he was a threat."

After 30 minutes of testimony, Luce took a 10-minute recess and then announced his decision to reduce the bail from $20,000 for each count to $7,500 per count.

Luce ordered Morrow to have no unsupervised contact with anyone younger than 18 pending the outcome of his case.

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