The Merced County District Attorney on Sunday responded publicly for the first time to his son’s arrest in connection with a triple-homicide case from last year.
Ethan B. Morse, 18, son of Larry D. Morse II, was arrested Friday afternoon outside his Merced home on a warrant for murder in connection with the shooting deaths of three teenagers last year at an Easter party.
The Merced prosecutor, in a statement issued Sunday, said his son has cooperated with investigators.
“We fervently believe in and trust the criminal justice system. We also believe in our son, Ethan,” Morse said in the statement. He went on to say, “A bedrock principle of the criminal justice system is the presumption of innocence and we know that Ethan will be extended that same right as this investigation continues.”
Ethan B. Morse remained behind bars Sunday without bail at the Mariposa County Jail. It is unclear if Morse will be arraigned Monday or Tuesday in Merced County Superior Court.
The victims, Samantha Parreira, 16; Bernabed Hernandez-Canela, 18; and Matthew Fisher, 19; were killed March 30, 2013, at the house party in the 9200 block of Westside Boulevard near Atwater. Detectives with the Sheriff’s Department said the killings were gang-related.
As of Sunday, there were no documents accusing Ethan B. Morse of any street-gang involvement or of personally using a firearm. His alleged role in the 2013 triple homicide remains under investigation. Investigators have so far declined to say what role they believe Ethan B. Morse may have played. He was 16 at the time of the shootings.
Investigators believe the party started as an Easter celebration for high school students and escalated after word of the gathering spread through text messages and social media, attracting more than 100 people, including members of several rival Merced County street gangs. Detectives have withheld details, including the number of suspected shooters and whether any weapons have been recovered.
Ethan B. Morse is the fourth person arrested in connection with the deadly holiday party. The other suspects, Jose L. Botello and Jose M. Carballido, both 19-year-old Atwater residents, and Jacob Tellez, 18, of Merced, have been booked on suspicion of first-degree murder as gang participants. Botello and Carballido have also been accused of using firearms, according to Merced Superior Court records.
Botello, Carballido and Tellez were arrested last week and booked at the Merced County Jail. All three remain in custody.
As of last week, authorities were handling the case as at least two separate incidents that occurred at the same party; one incident in which Tellez and now Ethan B. Morse were arrested and another in which Botello and Carballido have been charged.
The California Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case against Ethan B. Morse and Tellez. Rob Carroll, chief deputy district attorney, said Merced prosecutors also plan to turn over to the state attorney the cases against Botello and Carballido.
The Merced prosecutor spoke publicly about the triple-homicide investigation several times over the last year prior to his son’s arrest in the case. Larry D. Morse in January specifically referenced the case in a public meeting with the Merced County Board of Supervisors. At the meeting, Morse criticized the level of funding the board provided for violent gang-related investigations, and said the deaths of the three teenagers illustrated the need to beef up that part of the county’s budget.
Morse’s eldest son, Dylan Morse, received a three-year prison sentence in 2009 in Sonoma County for driving drunk and causing a two-car crash near Cotati that killed Alexander Ruiz, 22, and injured two others.
Ethan B. Morse graduated in June from Golden Valley High School in Merced, where he was a standout varsity wrestler and, relatives said, was named to the Academic All-Conference team his senior year.