A man from Deposit has been jailed on murder charges in Oneonta in connection with the blunt-force trauma death of his friend on New Year's Day, city police said Sunday.
Joshua P. Underwood, 25, is accused of using a bodybuilding weight to kill Mark J. Morrison, 52, early Sunday morning.
Underwood was charged with second-degree murder, a class A-1 felony, second-degree attempted arson, a class C felony, and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a class D felony, according to a media release from the Oneonta Police Department. He is incarcerated at the Otsego County Correctional Facility in lieu of $50,000 cash bail or $100,000 bond.
Morrison, of Oneonta, was gay, according to officials, and the two men are believed to have been romantically involved "at least in the past, if not more currently," according to Oneonta Police Lt. Douglas Brenner.
"That's part of what we're looking into as far as a motive," Brenner told The Daily Star on Monday. "It may have played a part."
Morrison was found deceased in his bed with blunt-force trauma wounds to the head at his apartment at 229 Main Street in Oneonta, according to Brenner. Morrison was the manager of the brick, four-floor Viewpoint Apartments building and had many friends there, officials said.
The murder weapon was a heavy weight used for bodybuilding, Brenner said, which Underwood used to strike Morrison multiple times. Underwood had been staying with Morrison for the past week, according to police.
Brenner said Underwood called Otsego County Emergency 911 at about 3:30 a.m. to confess. He had walked to the Mirabito convenience store on Southside to call 911.
"He told 911 dispatchers, 'I think I killed my friend,'" Brenner recalled. Brenner said a sergeant and officer went to interview Underwood, "and he told us the same thing."
Two other officers went to Morrison's apartment, Brenner said, where they forced open the door and found the deceased man in his bedroom. Oneonta firefighters also were at the scene, he said.
Underwood had tried to conceal the crime by stuffing newspapers under the apartment door and setting the papers on fire, Brenner said. However, the flames went out on their own. Brenner said it was fortunate there was no fire in the apartment building.
Otsego County Coroner Terry Knapp was at the scene Sunday and Monday, along with state police officials and detectives from the Oneonta Police Department. Morrison's body was sent to a hospital in Binghamton for an autopsy, Brenner said.
According to Brenner, the next steps involve trying to reconstruct the crime time frame, which will include looking into cell phone and computer records and surveillance equipment that Morrison apparently had inside the apartment building.
"We've got the state police Computer Crimes Unit analyzing electronic devices right now," Brenner said, "and that may shed some light on the situation."
Morrison didn't have family in the area, according to Knapp, but had many friends in the Viewpoint Apartments building, where the crime took place. Several of Underwood's family members declined to comment on the crime.
Morrison was "a great landlord," according to Oneonta resident Frank Clark, who said he lives in the apartment building. Clark said he has known Morrison and Underwood for about six years.
"(Mark) was willing to work with people if they fell on hard times, but he was tough when he had to be," Clark said Monday. "He never sugar-coated anything. Told it to you straight. All in all, he was a good guy."
Clark said he was unaware of any problems the two men may have had.
Shelly Ingraham of Oneonta said she became friends with Morrison while living in the apartment building several years ago. If Ingraham went out of town, Morrison would check on her cat and feed it, she recalled. He was a good listener and a caring friend, she said.
"He quickly became someone I could count on," Ingraham said. "Mark was the rare type of person that you don't come across very often. He'd give you the shirt off of his back for a friend who needed it. ... He gave advice freely, and he never judged you if you didn't take it. ... I know that his loss is going to be felt by many people deeply."
The investigation into the murder is continuing with support and assistance from the New York State Police Forensic Investigation Unit, New York State Police Computer Crimes Unit, Oneonta Police Detective Division and Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl.
The maximum sentence for a person convicted of a class A-1 felony is a term of incarceration for life, the release said, and the maximum sentence for a person convicted of a class C felony is a term of incarceration not to exceed 15 years.