Crime

In witness-murder saga, Miami lawyer leaves case after client’s pal secretly recorded him

Julio Morris, pictured here during a Miami court hearing in January 2019, is accused of murdering the key eyewitness in his murder trial. On March 20, 2019, prosecutors charged him with the murder of the eyewitness.
Julio Morris, pictured here during a Miami court hearing in January 2019, is accused of murdering the key eyewitness in his murder trial. On March 20, 2019, prosecutors charged him with the murder of the eyewitness. Miami Herald

For years, Miami criminal defense lawyer Stuart Adelstein represented Julio Morris, accused of two murders, including the assassination of a key eyewitness. But Adelstein this week had no choice but to quit the case for an unusual reason.

Prosecutors listed him as a victim — after his client’s pal secretly recorded Adelstein during a meeting at his law firm.

Here’s what happened in a very tangled legal drama.

Morris is accused of gunning down Jazmon Parker outside a North Miami-Dade home in April 2012. Fast-forward to February 2018, when the accused man’s buddy, James Kelly, visited Adelstein’s Miami law firm to talk about Morris’ upcoming trial.

Adelstein had no idea that Kelly was using a cellphone to secretly record the lawyer as they spoke about the case, prosecutors said. In Florida, it’s illegal to record someone without their consent. Adelstein had no clue.

Neither did prosecutors, until Kelly was arrested more than a year later and accused of murdering the case’s star witness, Ezell Finklea, who was gunned down days before the trial was set to begin in January.

Kelly is charged alongside Howard Waters, Morris’ cousin, with murder and witness tampering. The State Attorney’s Office is relying on cellphone records investigators believe show the conspiracy to kill the witness, and placing Waters and Kelly at the murder scene.

Prosecutors and Kelly’s defense lawyer, Brian Kirlew, agreed Friday afternoon in court that he could be released from jail to await trial if he posts a $400,000 bond.

“James is innocent. We don’t believe he should have been charged,” Kirlew said Friday. “The evidence is insufficient to prove he was involved or had anything to do with these homicides.”

Miami-Dade homicide detectives discovered the audio file after Kelly, on a jail call, mentioned he’d recorded the meeting with the attorney. They turned to Kelly’s cellphone, which had been seized by police, and found the nine-minute audio clip entitled: “Stuart.”

The State Attorney’s Office has now charged Kelly with an additional count of illegal wiretapping, a felony. Adelstein declined to comment.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Alberto Milian on Thursday ruled that prosecutors could listen to the entire audio recording because it did not fall under attorney-client privilege. The tape is no bombshell, just Adelstein explaining the evidence against Morris, including the importance of testimony from Finklea.

But prosecutors could now try to use the tape against Kelly, as a way to show he knew who Finklea was nearly a year before the witness’ murder. Shortly after Finklea’s murder, Miami-Dade detectives interviewed Kelly and he denied knowing the man.

Morris, Waters and Kelly are all still awaiting trial. Morris originally went to trial in March for the Parker murder, but a jury deadlocked.

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