CRIME

Man will not be charged for girlfriend’s death in storage unit fire

May 10, 2024, 2:30 PM | Updated: 6:31 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A man arrested in connection to his girlfriend’s death in a storage unit that caught fire will not be charged in the case, the Salt Lake County District Attorney announced Friday.

On Feb. 18, 2023, Morgan Kay Harris was locked inside a storage unit and later killed in a fire. Alexander Wardell, 30, was arrested in connection to the crime.

Mother of woman killed in storage unit fire outraged over accused man’s release to drug treatment

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill held a press conference Friday, walking through the events of the fire and the investigation into the fire.

“The testing showed the fire was most likely between 6-15 minutes long. Wardell was away from the unit for a total of 22 minutes, making it unlikely that Wardell intentionally caused the fire before leaving the unit … While not likely, these hypotheses could not be eliminated as a cause of the fire,” Gill said.

Gill explained he declined to file charges in relation to the death of Harris after a thorough investigation involving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, multiple agencies and prosecutors. Hundreds of hours were spent investigating and reviewing the case, and two representatives from the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office spent a week at an ATF Fire Research Lab in Maryland where they conducted live test burns.

Photos of inside the storage unit

Photos of inside the storage unit. (Salt Lake County District Attorney Office)

The report states, ” Both the OME and ATF experts list the cause of the fire/death to be “undetermined.” At this time, with the evidence before us, this office is unable to ethically charge Mr. Wardell without further evidence that he was present when the fire was started or had intent to start the fire that killed Ms. Harris. ”

“This is a tragic loss of life, but one where we do not have a basis to file criminal charges and meet our burden of proof. Our hearts go out to the family of Ms. Harris for this tragic loss. This office turned every stone to make sure Ms. Harris’s memory was served with our best effort,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.

The investigative report concludes “that the cause of the February 18, 2023 fire will be classified as undetermined.”

Harris’s mother, Lorraine Williamson, told KSL that despite the evidence, today’s decision did not bring her closure.

“It was shocking and I am extremely disappointed,” she said

Williamson said she does still believe Wardell was responsible for her daughter’s death.

“No one sane locks someone in a storage unit and walks away. If there’s not enough evidence, there’s not enough evidence. Doesn’t mean he’s innocent,” Williamson said.

Morgan Harris' mom Laurice Williamson speaking to KSL about prosecutors decision.

Williamson speaking to KSL about the prosecutor’s decision. (KSL TV)

She also puts some blame on the judge who did not keep him behind bars.

“The justice system failed before she died in that he was a convicted criminal, convicted and sentenced to five years, which he never served, and was still allowed to even be around another woman,” Williamson said.

As of Friday, Wardell is at the Utah State Prison serving his time for his other domestic-related charges.

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Man will not be charged for girlfriend’s death in storage unit fire