\WARREN — The 72-year-old woman looks like a grandmother who had just finished baking Thanksgiving pies, but instead she is serving two life prison terms for the 1978 murder of her husband and 5-year-old son.
Judith Morris Delgros is scheduled for a parole hearing in December, and Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins retells a chilling story in an effort to keep the killer at the Ohio Reformatory for Women for the rest of her life.
Delgros was convicted of the murder some 15 years after the crime, thanks to the efforts of a persistent sheriff’s office investigator who found holes in the case of a fatal trailer fire in Vernon Township that originally was ruled accidental.
The woman was convicted in a high-profile murder trial that was perhaps the only time a murder victim’s remains were displayed in front of a Trumbull County jury, Watkins said.
Evidence showed Delgros stabbed to death her husband, Donald Morris, 41, and then set the fire by pouring gasoline to cover up her crime, allowing 5-year-old Christopher Styles, Delgros’ son, to die.
Watkins also credited the testimony of Delgros’ other son, Edward Bridge, who was interviewed by sheriff’s Lt. Dan D’Annunzio in a Pennsylvania prison, saying he saw his mother stab his stepfather four to five times before the fire started. The stabbing followed a domestic violence episode between the couple, Bridge told the investigator.
Bridge, who was 9 at the time of the fatal fire, was in prison because of a rape charge as an adult.
A few weeks prior to the prison interview, D’Annunzio had come to Watkins begging him to reopen the cold case.
As a boy, Bridge was carried out of the blaze by a neighbor, while Delgros was fully dressed and did not make an effort to save anyone inside, Watkins said.
“Delgros had claimed the family was asleep and a furnace explosion caused the fire, even though neighbors in a trailer 10 to 15 feet away heard no explosion,” Watkins wrote.
Watkins noted investigators at the time of the fire found a human ear that was marked with triangles and symbols outside the fire scene, but did not investigate further. Watkins admitted he didn’t want to use the ear as the key piece of evidence at trial because it was later learned that Delgros possessed a book that showed satanic killing rituals and spells. Besides, Watkins said he had even more convincing evidence to convict the woman.
Donald Morris’ body was exhumed in 1993, and it was discovered he was missing an ear and his rib bones were cleanly severed by knife cuts.
The trial featured the human bones being displayed in front of the jury as well as Bridge’s dramatic testimony. A review of the forensics by Dr. Douglas Ownsley, forensic anthropologist for the Smithsonian National Museum, proved Donald Morris suffered at least seven separate stab wounds that caused his death, Watkins wrote.
After the evidence was presented in Judge W. Wyatt McKay’s courtroom, Delgros was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life prison terms.
Delgros was married for a fourth time after the fire, and Watkins says if she is freed, she could be looking for husband No. 5. He noted that in the 15 years between the murders and convictions, Delgros enjoyed life, setting up shop with husband No. 4, among other men.
“As one of two prosecutors who tried this case in 1993, I know it well and will never forget Judith Delgros’ demeanor and nonchalance, carrying on with life after murdering her husband, setting a fire and burning him to a crisp along with seeing her 5-year-old son burn to death, too. Only by the grace of God did her 9-year-old son, who suffered second-degree burns, survive the fire by being rescued,” Watkins wrote in a letter to the parole board, dated today, objecting to Delgros’ bid for freedom.
The case was part of an A&E Network “Investigative Reports” narrated by Bill Kurtis that aired in early 2001. The television program featured the prison interview between Bridge and D’Annunzio and Dr. Ownsley’s testimony.
Watkins said he is sending a DVD of that television program, along with other materials from the investigation, for the parole board’s review.
“The woven web of direct and circumstantial evidence (that) ensnarled Delgros truly left her without a path to escape responsibility for her venomous crimes. Her culpability is everlasting,” Watkins wrote.
Watkins said Delgros deserved the death penalty, but Ohio had no capital punishment in 1978. In 2013, Delgros was denied parole from the board. Now 10 years later, she is trying again, and the same person stands in her way.
Watkins notes that Delgros has displayed relatively good behavior in prison, but he tells the parole board that does not necessarily translate to good behavior once an inmate is released.
“Futhermore and most importantly, the monstrosity of her extraordinary vicious crimes should outweigh everything else,” he writes.
Watkins, in his 10-page letter, points out that Delgros would fall into a classification of having “continuing evil offender syndrome,” like other Trumbull County “kill and burn” offenders Henry Gabe Rockwell and Jermaine McKinney. Rockwell, who died in prison in 2020 after serving nearly 40 years for a 1981 double murder, had driven away from the scene with two bodies in his trunk. He then used gasoline to set both the vehicle and the bodies on fire in order to destroy evidence and cover up his crimes.
The case involving McKinney, who is serving a double-life with consecutive life-without-parole sentences, involved the murder of an elderly woman in her Newton Township home in 2005, along with the rape and killing of the woman’s daughter. The bodies then were set on fire as McKinney also tried to burn down the victims’ home in order to cover up his crimes.
Watkins concludes his letter by saying there is a special place for persons who murder their own children.
“It is not in Ohio, the United States or any other land on earth and afterwards, it is not heaven. It is prison then that other place,” he writes. “(Delgros) takes too much and asks too much. The inmate should count her lucky stars that she was not given the death penalty. A punishment which would have been more merciful in comparison to the punishment she inflicted on her husband and little son. Please deny parole!”
In keeping with the office’s policy, Laura Austen, director of Policy and Outreach for the Office of the Ohio Public Defender, said she does not comment on inmates’ parole bids.
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