Pierce County Man Sentenced to Prison for Murder Plot to Steal Victim's House, Land 

Posted

A King County Superior Court judge on Friday handed down a decades-long prison sentence to a Tacoma man who killed a stranger nearly four years ago in a plot to take over the victim's property and move into his house southeast of Renton.

A jury last month found Jeremy Shaw, 43, guilty of premeditated first-degree murder in the 2018 killing of Steven Morphis, a retired Boeing worker who lived alone in a secluded, three-bedroom rambler on nearly 7 acres, court records show. Shaw was also convicted of second-degree arson for torching Morphis' car in a University Place parking lot three days after the killing.

He was sentenced Friday to 548 months — or more than 45 years — in prison.

Shaw's wife, 41-year-old Lorena Shaw, was sentenced in October to four years in prison after pleading guilty to three charges for her role in the plot. She served a single day in Department of Corrections custody before being released with credit for the time she spent in the county jail, according to corrections and jail officials.

Jeremy Shaw settled on Morphis' house, which wasn't visible from the street and was valued at more than $500,000, after spending weeks researching rural King County properties and teaching himself about how to gain possession of land by simply occupying it, according to prosecutors.

Shaw knocked on Morphis' door Sept. 19, 2018, pepper-sprayed him in the face, then bludgeoned him to death, according to charging papers.

A contractor who had recently done yardwork at the property in the 16700 block of 196th Avenue returned to pick up some equipment the evening after Morphis, 67, was killed, charging papers say. But Morphis did not come out to greet him, as was his custom, and the contractor noticed a freshly dug hole in the shape of a grave behind the house, the charges say.

The contractor found Morphis' body, which had been wrapped in a tarp and bound with zip ties, inside a shed. He called 911.

Sheriff's detectives learned that Morphis' debit card had been used in the days after his death. One $4,000 payment was made to Aryan Enterprises, a business owned by Jeremy Shaw, the charges say.

Detectives also tracked Morphis' cellphone, which showed it had been in the area of the Shaws' Tacoma house and later returned to the area of Morphis' property, the charges say.

Jeremy and Lorena Shaw were arrested a week after Morphis was killed.

When detectives searched the Shaws' house, they found "Star Trek" memorabilia believed to have been stolen from Morphis' home, as well as methamphetamine and Nazi-themed and "white power" items, according to the charges.

Detectives also recovered a warranty deed, dated Sept. 6, 2018, purporting to transfer the title to Morphis' property to the Shaws, the charges say.